Airbnb welcomes City of Cape Town's bylaw approval

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 14 Nov 2019

Hospitality booking site Airbnb has applauded the City of Cape Town’s approval of amendments to its municipal planning bylaw, which allow for short-term home-letting of up to 30 days.

Earlier this year, the City of Cape Town proposed amendments to the municipal planning bylaws which regulate development and land use in Cape Town.

The proposal allows for short-term letting from a house or flat for a period not exceeding one month for the same guest/traveller, making it easier for homeowners to rent out their properties on home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb.

The bylaw amendments have now been approved and will soon be promulgated in the provincial gazette.

“Airbnb welcomes the decision by the city to amend the bylaw,” says Velma Corcoran, Airbnb country manager for Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Airbnb believes the proposed rules are right for Cape Town and show the city’s progressive attitude. Positive results can be achieved when policymakers and Airbnb work together on the shared goals of making cities better places to live, work and visit. Airbnb has worked with many governments around the world, and would like to congratulate Cape Town on supporting entrepreneurship and empowerment.”

According to Airbnb, more than two million guests have stayed in homes listed on its platform in SA since 2008. The estimated direct economic impact of Airbnb in the country was more than R8.7 billion, which is the equivalent of 22 000 jobs created across SA, it adds.

According to the city, the amendments are part of its annual review process, and must give effect to the policies and strategies that have been adopted by the council over the past few years.

It says it followed a comprehensive public participation process from 1 March to 1 April to inform residents and affected parties about the proposed amendments, and to solicit input and comments.

“This is in response to the increase in short-term letting via online platforms such as Airbnb,” says the city’s mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, alderman Marian Nieuwoudt.

“Many submissions supported this provision as it will contribute to our local economy and tourism sector, and job creation.”

Another amendment that will take effect once the municipal planning by-law is promulgated in the provincial gazette is the provision of a third dwelling as an additional use right for properties zoned as single residential and community use properties.

Chris Hattingh, project manager and researcher at independent public benefit organisation, Free Market Foundation (FMF), says legal changes that make it clear and easy for business to follow the necessary steps, act as active encouragement for new players.

“The amended bylaw is strongly welcomed. It is pro-small business and it will make it easier for people to rent out their homes on platforms such as Airbnb. SA has over 10 million unemployed people; each amendment, which can be made into law, will make it easier for people to start businesses, and employ other people as they grow those businesses.”

The FMF says it has consistently advocated for a policy environment in which government makes it as easy as possible for new players to enter different markets. It believes Cape Town is definitely “setting the right precedent” and is heading towards more economic freedom.

“Many individuals are struggling to make ends meet in SA. The national minimum wage is the latest attack on people’s ability to find work; it increases the cost of labour and removes control from workers’ hands by deciding for them how much they may work for.

“The amendment is a concrete example of the good work a government can do to make it easier for people to improve their lives,” adds Hattingh.

Tourism Amendment Bill outrage

In February, Cabinet agreed to the publication of the draft Tourism Amendment Bill, which aims to provide for the determination of thresholds and the regulation of short-term home rentals and home-sharing apps such as Airbnb nationally.

The Bill also aims to provide for the regulation of safety in relation to the regulation and the improvement of the tourist guiding experience, among other objectives.

In April, the Department of Tourism invited submissions for public comments on the draft, which received backlash from opponents who argued the thinking behind the Bill is misguided and will allow the minister of tourism to specify a limit on the number of nights a guest can stay in an Airbnb host’s home, or even how much income they can earn, resulting in a negative impact on job opportunities created by the home-sharing platform.

Martin van Staden, head of legal at FMF, warns the Bill, which is still with the Department of Tourism for review, may require revisions if it contradicts the City of Cape Town’s bylaw amendments.

“While it will likely be some time before the Bill is enacted, if the amendment Bill and the bylaw conflict, the amendment Bill will overrule the bylaw, because it is national legislation. The minister’s regulations in terms of the Bill just might conflict with the bylaw, given how vague the Bill is about exactly what the minister may or may not do with the regulations. If this is the case, the City of Cape Town might challenge the regulations in court as contradicting their bylaw, and this is what we should hope for.”

South Africans should not accept a situation where a single individual – the minister of tourism – can simply override the deliberative and parliamentary process of a legislature, like the Cape Town city council, warns Van Staden.