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Vancouver moves to limit Airbnb

Airbnb makes the case that short-term rentals are a “housing affordability solution” as others voice concerns that the practice replaces long-term rentals

A slide from the City of Vancouver's presentation on new proposed regulations for Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms.

A slide from the City of Vancouver's presentation on new proposed regulations for Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms.

Vancouver council was presented with two very different pictures of Airbnb as councillors deliberated over a new proposal to allow and regulate short-term rentals in Vancouver.

Alex Dagg, policy manager for Airbnb, presented short-term rentals as “a housing affordability solution for residents.”

“Homesharing makes it possible for thousands in Vancouver to afford to stay in their homes,” Dagg said.

“Fifty-three per cent (of Airbnb hosts) have reported to us that it allows them to stay in their home, and 12 per cent of our hosts reported that by sharing their space on Airbnb, they avoided foreclosure and eviction.”

On the other extreme was Ulrike Rodrigues, a Mount Pleasant resident whose condo building on 7th Avenue has become a de facto hotel, with as many as 10 suites owned by the same person listed on Airbnb.

“Keep in mind this is a shared building, it has common areas, storage lockers, parking, laundry,” Rodrigues said, adding that there have been incidents where storage lockers in the building were broken into with no sign of forced entry.

“We have some seniors, we have people for whom English is a second language, and they’re like, who are all these people coming and going?”

Council voted to proceed to public consultation. The proposal will come before council in early 2017 with final recommendations.

To Rodrigues, the proposed policy “looks amazing.” It proposes to both legalize short-term rentals — currently rentals under 30 days are not allowed under city bylaws — and regulate the practise by requiring property owners or renters to apply for a business licence.

Ulrike Rodrigues, a condo owner in Mount Pleasant, has seen up to 10 suites in her building listed on Airbnb.

Jen St. Denis

Ulrike Rodrigues, a condo owner in Mount Pleasant, has seen up to 10 suites in her building listed on Airbnb.

To get a licence, renters or homeowners must prove the home or rooms they want to rent out is their principal residence, and must display their permit when listing the room or unit. Renters must also get permission from their landlord.

Under the proposed regulations, a homeowner who lives in a house and wants to Airbnb a basement suite or a laneway house will not be able to get a licence, because those units are not their principal residence.

Airbnb is ready to work with the city, Dagg said, but there needs to be more flexibility in the regulation to allow homeowners to use short term rentals for those secondary suites. Many people want to keep those units free for family visits or the possible return of adult children, she said, meaning that people might choose to keep the units vacant rather than rent them out long-term.

The main goal of the new policy is to encourage long-term rental at a time of extremely low rental vacancy, sky-high rents and tenants undergoing long, frustrating searches.

Although city staff have estimated that 1,000 units could be returned to long-term rental stock through the new regulations, NPA Coun. George Affleck questioned whether this policy will achieve that result. He believes speeding up the building permit process would be more helpful.

“When I first spoke to council in April, I said please think about our shared rental and condo buildings,” Rodrigues said, “because this is where a lot of the affordable housing lives, and it’s being swallowed up by this kind of mechanism.”

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