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Learning to live with unexpected neighbours

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IN THE modern hyper-connected age, if there is a community need, someone has probably built an app to take care of it.

One of the latest to crop up is accommodation-sharing service Airbnb, which allows virtually anyone to rent out an apartment or space for extra income, or to find a place to stay in hundreds of locations around the world.

But like ride-sharing app Uber, Airbnb has ruffled feathers in some cities, where many established businesses and local authorities question how it fits into existing structures.

There are legitimate safety concerns that Canberra will need to address as the service is now operating locally. While government licensing and other conditions may seem suffocating to a dynamic new business, they exist for a good reason - and safety is among the most important.

Residents of upmarket apartments in the NewActon precinct raised concerns in February that some were being rented out on weekends to revellers who were reportedly riding statues, partying loudly into the small hours, and vomiting over the balconies into residences below.

The residents' complaint that they paid top dollar to live in a luxury residential complex, not a hotel, would seem reasonable. But simply trying to outlaw services such as Airbnb is akin to trying to hold back the tide - they are evolutions, new business models, and will only become more, not less, common.

While some cities have sought legal action to prevent the operators from setting up, and the protests from established hotels is to be expected, others have embraced the new model.

In Amsterdam, the Dutch passed a law granting owners the right to rent out properties to up to four people at a time and for a maximum of two months a year.

In doing so, the city has sought to benefit from the tax revenue, and has also argued the scheme may in fact help to preserve the character of some neighbourhoods while making it more financially viable for residents to preserve historic buildings.

Regardless of what approach the authorities in Australia choose to take, it makes sense to start thinking about where the limits may lie, and just what will be acceptable and what will not.

Simply outlawing new businesses risks pushing them underground, where they are more difficult to regulate.

Apartment and vehicle sharing could be just the tip of the iceberg, and regulators will be left chasing their tails unless they start considering these services soon.

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