Rental price hikes lashed by Settlers Tavern owner Rob Gough amid worker crisis

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Settlers Tavern owner Rob Gough.
Camera IconSettlers Tavern owner Rob Gough. Credit: Supplied

Settlers Tavern owner Rob Gough has called out local landlords for price gouging on weekly rent increases, and warned the housing crisis would continue with severe knock-on effects until State and Federal Governments take “real action”.

In conversation with the Times, Mr Gough said the hospitality sector was going through one of its most challenging times in recent memory, and visa wait times and housing shortages were the two key weaknesses.

However, he lamented the lack of serious consideration from the State Government.

At the same time, rampant conversion of rental homes into more lucrative Airbnb-style bookings was putting the squeeze on residents as well as luring workers to the region.

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“The unscrupulous hiking of residential rents is deplorable and begs examination,” Mr Gough said.

“Even well-established, long-term workers are experiencing severe rental crises as opportunistic landlords jack up weekly rents,” the publican said.

“One of our chefs recently lost his rental due to the property selling and being occupied by the new owner.”

While the chef fortunately took over the lease held by a friend, the weekly rent immediately jumped an extra $150 per week.

“This seems unfair,” Mr Gough said, “but is largely driven by market conditions and demand.”

Backpackers who were the lifeblood of tourism and hospitality were not returning in the same numbers as before the pandemic, and housing them remained a problem.

The crisis meant the Government should consider mechanisms, including rent control, to ensure housing for crucial industries remained viable, Mr Gough said.

Other operators told a similar story, with a long list of examples where workers were lost or delayed due to nowhere to live, or were unwilling to remain long-term tenants in caravan parks.

Margaret River Chamber of Commerce chief executive Annie McFie said there appeared to be no relief in sight, so the local focus was on harnessing existing workers among younger residents in the community.

“The chamber continues to advocate at a State/Federal and local government level about the critical need for housing,” she said.

“So far, aside from some changes to policy around the length of stay in campgrounds/caravan parks, we are not aware of any strategies that will bring relief any time soon.”

State shadow Housing Minister Steve Martin said meaningful action needed to be taken.

“From Broome to Esperance to Margaret River, every business owner is facing the same challenge – a desperate need for extra staff and no way of housing them.”

“The State Government is strangling regional economic growth by failing to address the cost of developing land in regional WA and the lack of incentives to build and own rental properties.”

Mr Martin did not comment on the idea of rent control and the State Government did not respond to specific questions around more action on rental homes.

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