The popularity of Airbnbs combined with tourism jump-starting post Covid-19 pandemic is creating a perfect storm that is squeezing workers out of getting a rental.
In addition, Southland District mayor Gary Tong says Airbnbs accommodating more than five people is a contravention of council rules, which can lead to prosecution.
The issue of properties being illegally crammed with beds was raised by Te Anau realtor Don McFarlane, who is running for a community board seat, on Tuesday. McFarlane said there was an instance of seven beds in a Te Anau garage.
On Wednesday, Tong said he was surprised by the comments and would look into the issue further.
The district plan set out that there could be no more than five people in a short term accommodation dwelling, Tong said.
If an Airbnb had more than five beds, the owner could be breaking fire regulations, the district plan and also risk insurance issues, Tong said.
Some Te Anau residents, business owners and local body candidates are concerned with Airbnb-used properties in the town for another reason as well; they say it’s making it hard for families and seasonal workers to find a place to live.
Cristina Salvidar is a duty manager at the Fiordland Lodge. She and her partner spent two years in Te Anau, a year in Dunedin during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and have returned to Te Anau.
Salvidar’s employer offered staff accommodation, but the 30-year-old wanted her own place and it took three months to find a rental in Te Anau when she and her partner decided to come back.
As tourism ramped up from the pandemic, Salvidar said it would be hard for tourism and hospitality staff to find a place to live.
Salvidar got her apartment through a friend of a friend, and snapped it up before it was listed.
Getting a rental in Te Anau in the next few months would get competitive again, but not to the same extent as Queenstown, she said.
“I’m slightly worried, but I don’t think it will be a disaster.”
PGG Wrightson Te Anau manager Nick Robertson said businesses were caught between a rock and a hard place because many staff came from overseas but businesses could not find them accommodation.
“Airbnb is taking off again because tourists are coming back, so it’s the perfect storm,” Robertson said.
Fiordland Jet co-owner Chris Adams is concerned tourists may not get a quality experience if businesses can’t attract enough staff. [File video]
“Now that covid screwed the tourism industry, owners take the rentals back as Airbnb or for themselves. So that’s taking stock out of the rental market.”
Robertson suggested the shortage of rentals in Te Anau, combined with a full recovery from closed borders, could lead to hot-bedding like in Queenstown. A hot bed is when people need to share a bed and sleep in shifts.
The issue of not enough beds for staff generally boiled down to single people needing a place to live, he said, which in turn made it hard for families to move to Te Anau.
Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels owner Jill Tauri said mixing long-term guests with overnighters had always been difficult, because the former lived there.
Tauri’s business offered its staff accommodation.
Fiordland Community Pharmacy owner George Batchelor has locums stay at his own house when they come to town.
At the moment the pharmacy had about six full-time equivalent staff who all lived locally, he said, but Batchelor was considering buying a staff house.
If he needed to buy a staff house, Batchelor said he would make it an Airbnb when staff did not need it, to pay the mortgage.
Housing staff in the area was up to an employer, Batchelor said.
“… and it’s unfortunate, but businesses have to consider it as part of their business model.”
Information from One Roof says median residential sale prices in Te Anau have risen 63.97% in five years, to $617,500. Median rent is $533, One Roof says.
Invercargill’s current median sale price is $375,000, with a median rent of $335.