Holiday rental company Stayz has lifted restrictions on bookings throughout Victoria, despite Melbourne remaining under strict coronavirus lockdown conditions.
Police have been working with short-term rental companies to try and restrict movement and prevent properties being used to host parties and gatherings during the pandemic.
Leading holiday rental company Stayz has lifted restrictions on its bookings in Victoria.Credit:Getty
Last weekend, police busted at least 10 unlawful gatherings in short-term rental properties across the state, which were described as "totally blatant" breaches of coronavirus restrictions.
Stayz corporate affairs director Eacham Curry said they imposed restrictions on bookings from August 20 at the request of Victoria Police, including a four-night minimum stay in an effort to help slow the transmission of the virus.
However, these restrictions were lifted on September 12, four days before regional Victoria moved into step three, which allows travel.
“This decision was not taken lightly and was done with an acknowledgement that there had been no instances of breaches in properties booked through Stayz,” he said.
“It was a temporary measure to assist authorities to restrict the movement of people at the height of the stage four public health orders.”
Mr Curry said Stayz now recommended homeowners ask travellers for proof they have received a public health exemption to travel before accepting a booking.
"The change in our approach resulted from feedback from the people who list their holiday homes on our website, who noted they were unable to provide accommodation to essential workers due to the blanket ban," he said.
While holiday rentals have not been ordered to close during the pandemic, under the restrictions currently in place in Melbourne people can only book accommodation in an emergency.
Stayz rival Airbnb introduced booking restrictions in Victoria when Melbourne entered stage four lockdown, designed to "prevent reservations which would likely breach the rules, while still accommodating those emergency and essential requests". The restrictions still apply.
"Airbnb is extremely serious about supporting the government and Victoria Police’s efforts to combat COVID-19. We have been urging our community to follow local guidance and introduced booking restrictions across Victoria," a spokesman said.
On Monday police said at least 10 unlawful gatherings in short-term rental properties were broken up by police during an "especially bad" weekend of rule-breaking.
The parties were described by Chief Commissioner Shane Patton as “a totally blatant breach” of coronavirus restrictions. At one gathering on the Surf Coast, a group of adults rented a jumping castle.
"When people arrange a short-term rental property then have in these circumstances 10 or 11 people in them … the ignorance and selfishness, it’s unfathomable," Mr Patton said.
“You can’t leave home and move into a short-term property unless you have one of the reasons for leaving home under the CHO exemptions. We have worked with these companies and they have extended it so you are required, as I understand, to lease for four nights. And that has seen a dramatic drop over recent times.
“This weekend for some reason, maybe the fatigue is starting to get to people, it was an especially bad one where we saw a whole host of different parties pop up.”
A Victoria Police spokeswoman said a number of short-term rental providers had updated their booking requirements during stage four restrictions after consultation with Victoria Police.
"These requirements mean that a minimum booking of four days is required for properties in metropolitan Melbourne," she said.
"This reduces the risk of a person renting accommodation with the intention of engaging in restricted activities during stage four restrictions."
Police monitor short-term rental bookings across the state to detect potential "high-risk bookings", and share real-time information with the accommodation providers so they can alert homeowners if they hear about a planned party at their property.
Mr Curry said he was aware there had been breaches of the public health orders during stays booked on other holiday rental platforms – not Stayz – in recent days.
"These unwelcome incidents tar the entire industry with the same brush and demonstrate the need for more accountability for all short-term rental accommodation operators," he said.
The state government has been concerned about the risk of transmission at large gatherings. On Monday it tripled the fine for anyone found to be at an unlawful indoor or outdoor gathering to almost $5000.
Those who try to travel out of Melbourne and into regional Victoria also face the same hefty fine.
Stayz is owned by HomeAway, which is part of global online travel giant Expedia.
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