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How much bigger will Airbnb get when it’s legal?


The sharing economy only selectively worries about niceties such as the law.

A report to the NSW Parliament has recommended consistent rules across the state for people seek to use online house-sharing services like Airbnb to rent out spare rooms and make some extra cash. It's an interesting development, if only because it reminds us that the sharing economy tends to set up services first and worry about the legal niceties later.

There are three potential scenarios: your local council has rules that ban Airbnb-type options in private homes; it has specific rules that control those services; or it has no rules one way or the other. Many providers, and many of the people listing rooms with those providers, tend to act as if the third scenario is always the case. When there's potential to make a significant bonus income, the attitude tends to be "list first and ask questions later".

The awakening can be rude. A colleague of mine had a nice little sideline going where he would rent out his Sydney CBD apartment on Airbnb to tourists and crash with his girlfriend. His problem wasn't council regulations, but one over-enthusiastic visitor who threw a party. A neighbour complained and threatened to dob him in to his landlord. Them's the breaks.

Regulating Airbnb has obvious benefits from a government point of view, not least of which is that it ensures that people making money doing this declare that income and pay tax on it. And people who have previously stayed away from Airbnb because they have realised it's illegal in their suburb may be tempted to sign on.

But not everyone is going to be happy. The report recommends that strata schemes should not be allowed to impose an outright ban on people sub-letting space in their apartments. That's not going to be popular with the type of neighbour who wants to complain every time someone stays over.

This kind of legal manoeuvring is going to continue as the sharing economy expands. We've already seen car-sharing service Uber banned from Sydney Airport and then allowed in. There will be a lot more of this before sharing becomes the new normal.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on

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