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Toronto clamps down on Airbnb basements while hosts blast city’s home invasion

As Toronto follows Vancouver to limit short-term secondary suite rentals, some hosts say the city is needlessly depriving them of income.

Edward Byers with his wife, Sophie Grossman, and two-week-old son Archie on Thursday. Byers feels the city's move to limit basement rentals on sites like Airbnb is a step too far.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Edward Byers with his wife, Sophie Grossman, and two-week-old son Archie on Thursday. Byers feels the city's move to limit basement rentals on sites like Airbnb is a step too far.

With Toronto moving to limit Airbnb rentals of lawful secondary suites, some hosts say that what they can and cannot do with their basements should be their own business.

On Tuesday, Vancouver banned short-term renting of laneway houses and basement suites that aren’t the host’s primary residence. Now Toronto — which initially indicated hosts would be allowed to rent one such suite — wants to do the same to free up space in a difficult long-term rental market.

Weston homeowner Edward Byers said he understands the city’s concerns, but platforms like Airbnb allow him to rent his basement sparingly while also saving it for visiting family and friends.

“I totally get the shortage of rentals,” he said, adding that he feels short-term rentals on investment properties should be restricted. “But if it’s your home, you should be able to do what you want with it.”

“We’ve got a little boy now, so we can save the basement for my parents when they’re here,” Byers added. “I mean, am I supposed to rent it out full time and then make them stay in a hotel when they come and visit?”

Saying Toronto “has an extremely unhealthy vacancy rate,” Councillor Ana Bailão introduced a motion Wednesday to restrict secondary suites that was passed unanimously by a planning committee.

The move was welcomed by advocate group Fairbnb, who say secondary suite short-term rentals make evictions of some tenants “virtually inevitable.” Council will make its final decision on Dec. 6.

Under new rules on short-term rentals of 28 days or less, only primary residences could be rented in full or part, and entire homes would be rentable for just 180 days per calendar year.

Going forward hosts would pay $50 to register, and providers like Airbnb would pay a one-off $5,000 fee to the city and $1 per night booked.

The city says 988,378 nights were rented on Airbnb in 2016, with almost 3,200 non-principal residences used; residences that could provide long-term options for renters.

Byers said not only would he lose out financially, but also on the connections Airbnb lets him build, outlining how he recently helped a family resettling in Toronto from Mumbai, who stayed for almost a month.

“If you really care about your city, it’s pretty cool to go through that with people,” he said.

Meanwhile, as Toronto mulls how it might enforce its rules, Vancouver City Councillor Melissa De Genova said she voted against that city’s clampdown, partly because of apparent loopholes.

“An adult child could rent a basement suite from their parents for a dollar a year and they would then be able to rent that out,” she said. “I’m not satisfied it will add to the long-term rental market.”

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