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Airbnb rentals growing in Vancouver, study reveals

A study by Inside Airbnb found 4,728 units available for rent in Vancouver, where Airbnb isn’t technically legal.

A map of Airbnb rentals in Vancouver from Inside Airbnb.

A map of Airbnb rentals in Vancouver from Inside Airbnb.

A new study reveals Airbnb is growing in popularity in Vancouver, a phenomenon that researchers say could make it even harder for residents to find a place to live in an extremely tight rental market.

Research published by Murray Cox of Inside Airbnb found there were 4,728 units available to rent in Vancouver as of Dec. 3. That’s up by about 1,000 from June, according to data from SFU urban studies master’s student Karen Sawatzky, even though short-term rentals without a permit aren’t legal.

Cox’s data revealed the majority of listings are for entire homes (67 per cent) and one third of hosts have multiple listings. Approximately a quarter of rentals are for entire homes that have recent and frequent bookings, suggesting Airbnb takes approximately 1,248 units out of the rental market in the city.

In a city where the vacancy rate drops to as low as 0.5 per cent in downtown neighbourhoods, that’s a significant number of units to be taken off the market, Cox said.
“It might not be causing the housing issue, but it’s definitely something that contributes to it,” he said.

The number of entire units rented (as opposed to private or shared rooms) and hosts with multiple properties indicate the people benefitting from Airbnb aren’t necessarily just renting out their places for the weekend, but operating more like a hotel.

Cox used a code to automatically collect public listing data on Airbnb’s website (often referred to as scraping, he calls the practice “compiling”), resulting in a snapshot of the listings at a particular time. He has studied cities around the world.

SFU’s Sawatzky said Cox’s research is consistent with her discoveries. She was surprised to see the listings continue to grow in the winter, which isn’t a high season for tourism.

“It doesn’t seem to be seasonal. That would strengthen the argument that it’s undermining the supply of rental housing,” Sawatzky said.

“I think a lot of people don’t even realize it’s not legal. If you can make a bunch of money and there doesn’t seem to be any penalties, why wouldn’t you?”

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