Dorset Council hikes Airbnb waste levy by more than $2,000 to ‘level the playing field’

Short-stay accommodation providers in Tasmania’s north-east are furious after discovering their council waste charges have gone up by at least 235 percent, despite no additional services being delivered.

Dorset Council has sent out rate notices to owners in Derby, Branxholm and Winnaleah, showing their waste levies have skyrocketed from $900 last financial year to $3,020 per dwelling.

Levies in Bridport, Scottsdale and Tomahawk have also increased significantly.

“The whole way this has been gone about and done, and the way this hasn’t been communicated, no notice, it’s just wrong,” Derby Digs owner Larry Cohen said.

He has two dwellings, with a third under construction, leaving him with an eventual bill of more than $9,000 in waste levies.

a close-up shot of a council bill
Mr Cohen has been invoiced more than $6,000 in waste levies for his two short-stay dwellings.(ABC News: Erin Cooper)

“This is my life savings you’re sitting in,” Mr Cohen said.

“I’m not just some investor who goes, ‘I’ll just splurge on a Derby project’. This is my retirement.”

Mr Cohen said it was not just a massive hike without notice. He was not getting any additional services either.

“How can you charge a charge without services attached?” he said.

“They’re not collecting the bins more often. No waste services have changed or increased.

“It’s not really a waste levy. It’s just a tax.”

The waste levy rise only affects short-stay accommodation properties and would no longer apply if they became long-term rental housing.

Levy hike to ‘mechanism’

Long-time Dorset Council Mayor Greg Howard blamed the Office of the Valuer-General.

A man standing with hands on his hips.
Mayor Greg Howard says short-stay properties need to be considered commercial enterprises.(ABC News: Matthew Growcott)

He said the office still considered short-stay accommodation properties to be residential instead of commercial, meaning the council could not charge commercial rates.

“It’s only appropriate that Airbnbs, which are for all intents and purposes commercial enterprises, should pay a reasonable share of the burden rates and we’ve done that via the waste management charge,” Mr Howard said.

He said it was not fair that short-stay accommodation providers were required to pay less in rates than hotels, motels and registered bed and breakfasts, so the council wanted to “level the playing field”.

“The Local Government Act is highly restrictive as to what councils can make charges for and the waste levy is one of those, so we’ve used that mechanism,” Mr Howard said.

“If the Office of the Valuer-General had done its job and reclassified the properties, the owners would have been paying just as much.”

He said any community consultation was unlikely to have made a difference as “no-one was going to be in favor of it”.

Riders on a mountain bike trail through a forest.
The popularity of mountain-biking has prompted a surge in Derby short-stay accommodation.(Facebook: Blue Derby Mountain Bike Trails)

Minister for Local Government Nic Street said he was aware of the community concern and had requested the Office of Local Government to look into the move and report back.

Questions over legality

The move came about as the council scrambled to fill a sudden budget black hole at the end of the last financial year, which was blamed on rapidly rising inflation.

Mr Howard was acknowledged the levy hike brought in partially to fill that hole but said it needed to happen regardless of the balance sheet.

He also said the council had sought legal advice before proceeding.

“When you pay very good money for very good legal advice, you’re certainly hoping that advice is correct,” Mr Howard said.

A man is standing on a deck in-front of a dark gray house looking into the camera
Mr Cohen is weighing up his legal options.(ABC News: Erin Cooper)

Mr Cohen is considering his legal options after his lawyer thought the charge could be unlawful.

This was due to the amount it was increasing, the fact it was charged per dwelling instead of per title, and the fact no additional waste services were being provided.

“My legal advice is the next step is the Supreme Court to challenge this fake charge but I’m considering whether or not I have the appetite to do it,” Mr Cohen said.

“I’m hoping level heads prevail.”

A spokesperson for NRE Tasmania, which the Office of the Valuer-General falls under, said the Valuer-General is responsible for all statutory valuations, which are then used by councils as the basis for calculating rates.

“How rating authorities [councils] use statutory valuations in their rating resolutions is a matter entirely up to them under provisions of the Local Government Act,” they said.

“The Dorset Council’s decision to increase these charges is a matter for the council.”


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