“I lock the door and I stay inside, but let me tell you I now have a baseball bat around the corner because I have situations where people have mistakenly walked into my apartment when the door was not locked,” he says.
Airbnb research house AirDNA shows the number of active rentals in Southbank had more than doubled in the past three years to more than 1300 current listings.
During this time, Mr van Onselen said living in the 536-unit tower has become so uncomfortable that they are considering selling up.
“The types of individuals we have had are appalling, they hire the rooms to have a party and then leave it in a disgusting state,” the 71-year-old former managing director of V/Line said.
When solo-living resident Lenna Tye bought her apartment in 2015, the building’s security was a major drawcard. But the revolving door of strangers in her hallway makes her feel uncomfortable. “I always need to lock my door. I don’t feel safe,” she said.
Freshwater Place committee of management chairman Peter Renner said concierge staff have been “physically and verbally” harassed because many short-term tenants expect hotel-style services that the building does not provide.
“It’s been incredibly frustrating that a building that has been given a certificate of occupancy as a residential tower is suddenly being used as a hotel,” Mr Renner said.
Units in the Freshwater Place tower are listed on every major short-term rental website, from Airbnb to Stayz, Trivago and booking.com and Mr Renner guesses about one in five units are available for short stays. But the apartments are also being leased out by smaller rental companies, such as family-run Platinum Apartments.
Platinum Apartments director Helen Dawson owns and sub-lets more than 20 apartments in the building and she said residents who complain about short-term tenants are “pulling at straws”.
“They’re trying to find ways of saying it’s not fair,” Ms Dawson said.
“I’ve been to apartments where the kids have trashed their own parents’ properties. We had one guy dancing on a table, girls of the night up there. That happens as well with long-term residents.”
But residents say during times of major events, like the spring carnival period this week, the “riff-raff” brought by short-term tenants reaches its worst.
“Grand Prix weekends, the AFL football weekends, you name it. Just the other day with the Melbourne Cup, I was astounded there were so many people who came out of that apartment they couldn’t fit in the lift,” Mr van Onselen said.
In February, Victorian government regulations came into effect that allows owners’ corporations to take action through VCAT against lot owners who sub-let their apartments if their tenants create unreasonable noise, damage property or threaten the safety of permanent tenants.
If the claim is successful, that lot owner can be fined $2000.
But lobby group We Live Here spokeswoman Barbara Francis said this does “absolutely nothing” to protect tower-living residents.
The volunteer-run group has rallied against the legislation since it was first tabled in 2016, saying it shifts responsibility onto owners’ corporations and the onus of proof is too hard to prove in many cases.
“By the time you pick up the act and read what you have to do, the tenant has already left,” Ms Francis said.
“And the amount you can claim is such a pittance.”
Ms Francis said lot owners who use short-stay accommodation should pay higher levies to cover damage to common property and bolster security and councils should issue permits to regulate the use of short-stay accommodation.
Mr Renner agrees, saying the legislation is “very, very weak and in favour of the operators”.
“They don’t understand or appreciate the fact these high-rise towers are people’s homes.”
But Ms Dawson does not think owners who sub-let their apartment should pay higher levies.
“I see residents all the time with trolleys in the lift, bumping things, suitcases going on holidays … If you have a property on the street, just because you’re renting the property, should that owner pay more land tax? Road tax?”
Mr van Onselen pays $25,000 in body corporate fees each year and does not want to stop living in the city.
“This is a premium apartment; it costs a fortune to be here,” he said. “If you want to stay in the city, stay in a hotel, not in a building like this where we have bought and live.”
Charlotte is a reporter for The Age.