This article about providing a solution to Airbnb strata issues has been supplied by Franck Bossi, Prox Access.
Following the recent Victorian Supreme Court decision allowing Airbnb hosts and other short-term leasing sites to operate freely in Melbourne’s apartment buildings, I think that it’s about time for owners corporations to look into other solutions to protect their buildings against Airbnb strata issues and other short-term lets.
As a security expert specialising in access control systems and protecting residential buildings from Airbnb hosts and overcrowding residential buildings, I know that our buildings already have the means to limit Airbnb strata issues and stop Airbnb hosts, disreputable landlords and people who illegally sub-let their properties. However, these processes and systems are not yet fully explored or properly applied.
Compared with current laws and regulations, your building bylaws are certainly already more effective against short-term leasing than you may think.
It is important to understand that many Airbnb hosts and those responsible for overcrowding in properties are international students who might not speak English or are looking only to benefit themselves rather than cause Airbnb strata issues, and thus ignore or are unaware of relevant laws and regulations.
We currently observe that overcrowded units in residential buildings tend to turn into Airbnb hotspots, especially during high tourist seasons. This is because:
- There is no risk of breaching your tenancy agreement because of overcrowding, as an Airbnb unit isn’t overcrowded. The real estate agency won’t know anything.
- Sub-letting to Airbnb tenants poses no problem with the real estate agency before and during routine inspections as there is no need to move out bunkbeds before the inspection as you would in an overcrowded property, leaving traces of bunkbeds on the carpets or partition walls in the living room.
- Airbnb can generate more money than an overcrowded unit as prices can be as high as $400/day over certain periods (holidays, etc.).
- Utilities are reduced as you will have, for example, 2 rather than 6-10 occupants.
- Airbnb pays you directly into your PayPal or bank account, so there is no need to hide money from the ATO and banks.
- Your unit is more discrete as there are fewer occupants thus the unit doesn’t look suspicious and overcrowded as before.
Finally, the level of stress is reduced as you do not have to constantly show the place to potential new occupants. The Airbnb guests pre-book your property and you deal only with a small amount of people on set dates.
Clearly, Airbnb hosts and others seeking to abuse their property are unconcerned with relevant laws and regulations, causing Airbnb Strata issues in the building. As a result, owners corporations need to focus more on their buildings than on the hope that new regulations will prohibit the leasing of properties through sites such as Airbnb.
Your building will already have bylaws in place regarding your security access cards/fobs to help limit Airbnb strata issues. Usually, these bylaws will state that only the person registered against the access key is allowed to enter the building using this key. The access key holders are the landlords or tenants nominated as key holders in the tenancy agreement and are registered in the building’s security software management.
Illegal additional occupants or Airbnb guests obviously have no security access cards/fobs registered to their names. Thus, the only way to have their names registered is to ask the building manager, who should not authorise this.
Bylaws already count for a lot in the fight against Airbnb hosts. However, in your buildings the building managers cannot assume the role of policing rogue tenants and landlords. This is because they have other commitments and also because it might put them in a very stressful, even unsafe position.
In the past we have observed that building managers are sometimes threatened, or worse, by landlords and tenants unhappy to see them cancelling/blocking their access cards/fobs when they share them with illegal additional occupants.
Without getting into detail about these threats, we can all understand that sometimes building managers might be pressured in some way to turn a blind eye to illegal leasing practices in their building.
To avoid this from happening, you should first look at your security access control system to find out if it is currently secured or not. Having an unsecured system means that it’s currently possible to bypass the security system. Your security access cards/fobs might be hackable and thus easily duplicable.
We do know that over 90% of residential buildings in Melbourne, Sydney and on the Gold Coast are currently equipped with unsecured security systems, most of which were hacked back in 2005. Many security integrators are currently still installing security systems that have been known to have been hacked and are thus unsecured.
It appears that many security integrators or consultants have little knowledge of RFID security systems and take as “industry standard” systems that have previously been hacked as they are unaware of the vulnerability of these system and also of how the cards and readers actually work.
There is currently no requirements in most states of Australia for security systems advisors, sellers or suppliers to have any knowledge of RFID systems. This speaks volumes about the security deficit that we are all facing, and it is therefore no surprise that so many premises are equipped with the wrong security systems or why brand new buildings are being equipped with unsecured systems from day one!
To ensure that your building managers are not going to have to confront angry Airbnb hosts or others after having their access cards/fobs cancelled, you need to first to make sure that your current cards and fobs cannot be duplicated.
You also need to make sure that only your building managers have access to the security access cards/fobs activation and deactivation processes because, as we have observed many times, security guards can misuse these processes!
Also, no real estate agent should be able to supply access keys to new tenants without having them first register their names with the building manager so that they can then be entered into the security software management. Their access will then only be activated after it has been confirmed that their names are on the tenancy agreement.
Unfortunately, it appears that some real estate agents may not be assisting in the control of security in some buildings. One practice that has been observed is would-be tenants getting access keys from real estate agents so that they can visit the unit without the agent being present. The would-be tenant then immediately duplicate the access card/fob prior to applying for the unit! Importantly, some real estate agents have access keys that can open any doors in the building.
Airbnb Strata Issues: What Can You Do To Prevent Access?
If you implement the following practices you will be taking valuable steps to prevent Airbnb sub-lets in your building. Your building is equipped with an unhackable security system, thus no one can duplicate the access cards/fobs anymore. Your building has now become unattractive to tenants and landlords seeking to abuse lease agreements.
Your bylaws limit the number of access cards/fobs per unit, stopping disreputable landlords and tenants from installing illegal additional occupants in their unit as they won’t be able to supply them with their own access keys (as above, these keys are no longer duplicable). The inconvenience of not being able to enter the premises anytime they need will discourage them from choosing to reside in your building.
However, having a limited number of access keys per unit does not affect the potential to sub-let a property through Airbnb as there will be a sufficient number of access cards/fobs to supply to Airbnb guests (it is often the case that only one set of keys is supplied per Airbnb booking rather than per person). Therefore, your building manager can cancel access keys when s/he spots unregistered key holders using a card/fob. However, this forces the building manager to take on a “policing” role and they risk being confronted by angry Airbnb hosts.
So what solutions are there that can ensure that the Airbnb hosts cannot share their access cards/fobs with unwanted guests?
Biometric access control systems using fingerprint access is the only real solution currently available on the market.
I can already hear some of you saying that fingerprint technology is expensive, that it is not accurate or that as we age our fingerprints fade and so on. Let me reassure you, it’s not expensive. Fingerprint access control systems are very accurate and the technology has been around for a very long time. It’s also possible to allow you to use any of your ten fingerprints to open a door.
Biometric technology doesn’t need to be everywhere in your building, only in specific areas such as in lifts. It’s also possible to only force those residents identified as Airbnb hosts to use the biometric system, while other residents can simply use their access cards/fobs.
Only a few security companies around Australia are currently equipping premises with biometric security systems. Therefore, the technology isn’t yet well-understood by the security industry, meaning that your building may breach legislation in a few years’ time.
At present, legislation has not caught up with biometric security systems as Australian law still allows the storage of fingerprints inside security readers or in door controllers. In other countries such as France this storage is prohibited for serious security concerns.
This may not initially seem like a big deal but it is vital to never store any biometric information inside a reader or door controller because, unlike with a password, replacing your fingerprints is, obviously, impossible. Future technologies will undoubtedly allow us to use our fingerprints to pay for products or services or to identify ourselves, so we all need to make sure that our fingerprints are kept safe.
As an access control systems security specialist, I have identified and tested many security solutions that make the lives of disreputable landlords and Airbnb hosts a real nightmare! I can assure you that the best way to stop Airbnb guests from accessing your building is to equip them with biometric readers using the appropriate technology, i.e. technology that cannot be hacked and that stores fingerprint data in a safe place.
With biometric readers:
- Airbnb guests won’t be able to use Airbnb hosts’ access cards/fobs as the guests’ fingerprints will not be registered.
- An Airbnb guest that cannot enter the building anytime they wish will surely cancel their booking and/or write a terrible review on the Airbnb host’s profile, curtailing any future business and causing the host a great deal of trouble and frustration.
- Your building’s bylaws will not authorise anyone other than landlords and registered tenants to hold security access keys.
- Your access cards/fobs cannot be duplicated.
- Your building manager can decide who must access the building using fingerprint technology and who can enter without the need to scan their finger.
- You now have the solution for dealing with nuisance Airbnb hosts and Slumlords without needing to rely on laws and regulations.
This post appears in Strata News #103