You can’t stop progress — the big Airbnb picture

I love the Atlantic Sea Board newspaper. I cannot explain, I argue with most of it’s content vigorously every week — but I just can’t seem to break it off. The headlines for the last, at least 5 weeks have been complaints over new developments. EXCEPT for the most recent one, that changed the pace by calling for “Rent Control.”

Now, you can’t have it both ways. Fantastic! A capitalist economy at last, which very basically is an economy based on supply and demand. Increase the supply, and the demand — and prices — decrease. Ta, da! Instant rent control!

And our other huge obstacle? Employment, job creation, skills development and so forth. Cape Town, does not have the same endless geographical space nor infrastructure to become the African business hub that Johannesburg does. It is limited on several levels. What we do have — is an absolutely stunning environment, much sought after by international tourists. It’s imperative we captivate this market, to improve our communal quality of life and be able to provide for our families.

A much admired Cape Town psychologist recently recanted that so many of his patients lived in misery in Camps Bay mansions (Bungalows if you please) without any furniture, unable to sell as that will not come anywhere near to recovering the bank’s outrageous interest rates. We are all taking strain — to different degrees admittedly — in South Africa. The stunning houses stand empty, unused, and repossessed by banks. (Inevitably sold at lower then market value to foreigners in any event!)

Enter Airbnb and similar. They are quite literally life savers at a time when our economy is desperate for income, especially foreign currency. And it’s no coincidence. Airbnb, Uber & the hundreds of “sharing economies” that have exploded into the international markets, are borne out of necessity. Taxes, bank charges, (deep breaths . . ) criminal interest rates coupled with fewer jobs and an uncertain world economy have forced communities to develop shared economies. A large portion of Airbnb listed properties in Sea Point, belong to individuals or families, who live there for the majority of the month, and afford this lifestyle by utilizing Airbnb to cover their rent/ mortgage etc. That is of course, just the first of the perks of welcoming tourists — restaurants, transport, local attractions, locally produced products, volunteer centers, shops, well, EVERYONE benefits.

Yet, the certain type of character that relishes rules for the sake of rules and causing as much disruption as possible are putting a fascinating amount of effort into attempting to force Airbnb etc. out of what they imagine to be their territory.

1.) I have been more thoroughly background checked, criminal activity, income source, validity of ID documents and credit card actually charged to check legitimacy before even opening a profile, then I ever experienced with a rental agent. This industry does not have the greatest reputation to start with, and their focus is on placing a tenant. Beyond that, what occurs, how many occupants/ visitors, pets, water damage, noise etc. are of little concern to them. I would far rather have a neighbor background checked by Airbnb and subject to regular checks and with a guaranteed Airbnb insurance policy, then a flock of students with little regard for neighbours or the other myriad of things that will, and do, go awry with tenants. The other great problem, is that it is an extremely costly, lengthy, and near impossible to evict problem tenants.

2.) The reality is, the economy is weak, people are calling for rent control because the rental amounts are simply out of reach for most employed, hardworking South Africans. If this highly legislated and regulated industry, enables individuals and families to remain in their homes/ retain family estates, then it is unforgivable to blandly enforce regulations because of fear and a lack of understanding.

3.) As with long term owners and/ or tenants — of course a basic code of conduct must be adhered to, and neighbours safety and enjoyment of their own homes must be considered of prime importance. Airbnb backs this statement wholeheartedly, guests must agree to rules up front, and may be financially penalized and/ or asked to leave should they not adhere to them. That is far more than a long term South African tenant faces should they repeatedly break the code of conduct.

4.) Banning short term lets will eventually lead to abandoned properties, and poorly maintained buildings. It takes away possible employment for so many that desperately need it in so many industries.

5.) Shared economies are taking over internationally. You can try, but they are borne out of necessity, out of a need to survive. I’m not sure if Nkandla has finished their latest addition/ interior design/ fire pool etc. but suffering South Africans can no longer bear the brunt of a government that does not have the people’s primary needs at heart.

I am fully behind a fair, ethical, reasonable, non-judgmental code of conduct where so many of us live in close quarters, albeit absolutely breathtakingly stunning close quarters. But you cannot halt progress. The answer is to work together, discuss problems, find solutions, monitor the situation, MUTUALLY BENEFIT from this fantastic opportunity for our country.

Airbnb has triumphed against opposition in New York courts, is flourishing in France and similar — and if we appear to take an aggressive stance, we are doing ourselves and other South Africans a massive injustice.

To those of you who already open your hearts, homes and families and present a welcoming image of our country — I know it’s hard work, but thank you — and please, keep on leading the way.

And never forget — it’s a beautiful country to live in.