Airbnb’s Friendly Buildings Program may run into some problems as it spreads


Airbnb’s Jaja Jackson has brought the Friendly Buildings Program to Australia.

Landlords have been among the loudest critics of Airbnb, what with its risks of loud parties and expensive repairs, but the company has a plan to win them over.

Unfortunately, in Australia, the scheme looks half-baked.

Airbnb’s director of global multifamily housing partnerships, Jaja Jackson wants to create "solutions that work for the entire community."

In Sydney on Tuesday to roll out the company’s Friendly Buildings Program, Jackson claimed the initiative specifically addressed the concerns of apartment renters and owners.

For owners, the program helps strata committees make rules governing the use of Airbnb in a building, updating them with regular information on Airbnb stays.

For renters, an addendum is added to leases in which their landlord gives express consent for the premises to be hosted on Airbnb.

But only in exchange for a profit sharing arrangement that gives a percentage of earnings to said landlord or strata group. "We recommend that the profit share percentage be between five and 15 percent," Jackson said.

This is where things get murky.

Ned Cutcher, senior policy officer for the Tenants Union, said the program looked out of step with what the law allows in the state New South Wales (NSW).

Under state tenancy law, the landlord is only entitled to receive rent money. Sharing profits made on Airbnb could be seen as a de-facto rent increase, he suggested, adding that a clause in which the landlord promises not to evict someone for renting their home on Airbnb may also be unenforceable.

A 2016 state government inquiry recommended renters be legally able to offer homes or rooms on the platform. It was a result obviously favoured by Airbnb, which has slowly but surely been lobbying its way to legality across Australia. But the government won’t make its final decision until April.

Bodies like the Owners Corporation Network (OCN), for their part, are lobbying regulators to allow strata committees and owners to outright ban Airbnb in their building.

According to chair of the OCN, Stephen Goddard, the concept of the friendly building is a good one. However, he suggested that before you have a friendly building, you must first allow owners to vote on whether their building will participate in Airbnb hosting at all.

"… owners should have a democratic right to decide whether short term letting should come into their domain," he said.

According to Jackson, the program is only rolled out in places where the local regulatory environment supports short term rentals.

Launched in the U.S. in early 2016, the Friendly Buildings Program is now available in most American cities and several in Canada. "More than 5,000 units are now eligible for the Friendly Buildings Program in the United States," Jackson said.

"It simply creates a platform on which responsible hosting can take place."

Nevertheless, Cutcher suggested Airbnb has some work to do before rolling out the program in NSW. What works in San Francisco may not work here.

"Taking that one size fits all approach puts us on a dangerous path," he said.

Airbnb has been approached for comment.