The Queenstown Lakes District Council’s much-anticipated District Plan changes to short-term visitor accommodation – including the likes of Airbnb and Bookabach – have been confirmed, with the new rules already in effect.

After publicising its original intentions last year, submissions were called for, which, in turn, were considered by an Independent Hearings Panel. That panel’s recommendations were adopted in full by the council at its March meeting – even though, in some cases, they are a departure from what was originally proposed.

While the panel supported some aspects of the council’s approach, it didn’t share the QLDC’s level of concerns on the impact short-term accommodation is having on the affordability and supply of residential and rental housing. It was suggested short-term accommodation is, in fact, helping by providing additional accommodation options, in cases where rooms or houses would otherwise have remained empty.

Just before we get into the detail, though, it’s worth noting from the get-go that it’s not quite done and dusted yet – those who made submissions to the process have until May 7 to lodge an appeal against the council’s plans with the Environment Court.

It’s important to understand, too, that there are some instances where it’s not black and white, and rules and conditions will likely come down to, among other factors, the location and nature of the accommodation, and how often a property’s let.

Essentially though, here are what the changes look like …

Under the new rules, visitor accommodation is broken into three types (with “holiday homes” no longer having its own category):

Homestays: where the owners reside on the property during stays by paying guests. This would include a scenario where a room in a home is let out, or a granny flat on the property is being let.

Residential Visitor Accommodation: residentialproperties where fee-paying guests rent the whole house.

Visitor Accommodation: this definition is generally for commercial situations, and includes hotels, motels, backpackers, staff accommodation and camping grounds.

The rules around homestays look set to remain largely the same, with no consent being required if you remain under the five-guest-per-night limit, provide adequate carparking, prohibit heavy vehicles and ensure specific traffic movements are not exceeded. The key change is that you can no longer let both a dwelling and a granny flat at the same time. If you wish to deviate from these rules, consent will be required, and that will be determined by the zone the property is located in.

The panel also recommended – and the council accepted – changes to key Residential Visitor Accommodation thresholds:

Residential zones (low and medium density): The proposed 28-night permitted standard was not adopted and has instead become:

0 - 90 nights per year will be deemed a controlled activity, requiring consent.[1]

91 – 180 nights per year would be considered a restricted discretionary activity, requiring consent.[2]

181+ nights per year will count as a non-complying activity, requiring consent.[3]

High-density residential and business mixed-use zones:

0 - 90 nights per year will be deemed a permitted activity, meaning consent is not required.

In the business mixed-use zones, 91+ nights will be considered a controlled activity, requiring consent. [1]

In high-density residential zones, 91+ nights will constitute a restricted discretionary activity, requiring consent. [2]

Rural zones: In the rural zones, the rules will largely depend on the location of the property. In some locations 0 - 90 nights will be deemed a permitted activity (consent is not required), with 91+ nights being a controlled activity.[1] In other areas, however, 91+ nights will be treated as a discretionary activity.

There are also some location-specific rules proposed for Jacks Point, Waterfall Park and Millbrook.

When weighing up whether or not to grant short-term visitor accommodation, the council will consider:

  • The nature of the surrounding residential context
  • Residential amenity, character and cohesion within the neighbourhood
  • The cumulative effect of the activity, and other surrounding activities, on the neighbourhood
  • The number of guests on site per night
  • The number of guest nights per year
  • The availability of records

Monitoring requirements and the ability to impose a monitoring charge

The council has been at pains to emphasise it is not anti-Airbnb, or any other online provider, acknowledging that this sector plays a key role in the district’s accommodation market. However, it says, the changes are founded in trying to manage the phenomenal growth in the sector – it estimates 14 percent of the local housing stock is registered with one of the online providers, and the majority is whole houses.

So, if you’re already operating some sort of short-term visitor accommodation, what do you need to do? If you were already complying with the rules before the changes came into effect in March, you can continue as normal – so long as the nature and scale of the activity remain the same. If that changes, however, it’s important you check you are compliant with the new rules.

You can apply for a Certificate of Code of Compliance from the council – that’s a document which proves you are complying with existing rules. It’s entirely optional, but the benefits of having one include peace of mind that you’re on the right side of the law, and, where required, you have the relevant consent in place.

If you’re considering entering the short-term accommodation market, it’s well worth taking some legal advice now so you can carefully consider how the new rules might impact your decision-making.

Remember, too, these changes relate to “Stage 2” of the District Plan review. It’s not over yet for rule changes around short-term visitor accommodation in the QLDC area. The “Stage 3” review is due later in the year and will cover the following zones:

  • Township zones
  • Gorge Road high-density residential zone,
  • Business mixed-use zones
  • Industrial zones
  • Rural visitor zones
  • Ballantyne Road mixed-use zone
  • Three Parks

You can read more about “Stage 3” here.

Don’t forget, there are many other considerations when you're involved in providing short-term visitor accommodation, insurance and bank requirements for starters. Check out this article for a handy overview of some of those key factors.

[1] Controlled activities require resource consent, but as long as the District Plan standards are complied with, consent must be granted. Conditions can be imposed.

[2] Restricted discretionary activities require resource consent, and such consent can be granted or denied. Conditions can be imposed.

[3] Non-complying activities are those that contravene the District Plan rules. Resource consent is required and can be granted or denied. Conditions can be imposed.

Residential property