News / Vancouver

Vancouver's proposed Airbnb rules need more teeth: Coalition

Fairbnb wants the city to be able to fine online short-term rental platforms for allowing illegal listings.

Rental housing in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, on Mar. 23, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro

Rental housing in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, on Mar. 23, 2017.

The City of Vancouver’s proposed short term rental regulations will fail to get apartments back into the permanent rental pool unless platforms like Airbnb face consequences for allowing illegal listings to proliferate, the coalition Fairbnb is warning.

“We demand that this city, Vancouver, include a system for licensing, and if necessary, for fining platforms like Airbnb if they list illegal listings,” said Octavian Cadabeschi of Unite Here, a union that represents hotel workers across Canada.

In addition to Unite Here, Fairbnb includes renter and landlord groups like Vancouver Tenants Union, the SRO Collaborative and Landlord BC.

Fairbnb wants to see a system similar to one currently being enacted in San Franciso, where platforms like Airbnb or Vacation Rental By Owner enter into a legal licensing agreement with a city (in contrast to the legally unenforceable memorandums of understanding some cities have signed with Airbnb).

The platforms agree to retool their websites to only allow hosts who have complied with city regulations to be able to list on their sites. “Platforms should be fined for each day an illegal listing is advertised and…(could) lose their right to operate within a given jurisdiction,” according to Fairbnb’s report.

In a statement attributed to Airbnb spokesperson Lindsey Scully, Airbnb called the coalition a front group for hotels and that the "report is just the latest example of their efforts to protect antiquated, entrenched interests, instead of working to support families who are making a little extra income to pay their bills."

City staff, however, are interested in the approach Cadabeschi describes — in which the short term rental platforms would bear the responsibility for not posting illegal listings, and could face fines or suspension of operations in a city if they do not comply.

The barrier, said Kathryn Holm, chief licence inspector for the city, is that it’s currently unclear how the city would hold an Internet-based business, with no physical presence in Vancouver, accountable.

“We’re certainly working with our internal legal team and with other municipalities to see what we can do about approaching the online platforms with a licensing requirement,” Holm said.

Currently, all rentals of less than 30 days are illegal — although there has been little enforcement action from the city even as Airbnb listings have proliferated through the city. At the same time, Vancouver is struggling with skyrocketing rental rates and a very low vacancy rate, under one per cent.

Fairbnb supports Vancouver’s proposed regulations, which would both legalize and regulate short term rentals. But, the group maintains, they need more teeth in order to be effective.

In their currently proposed form, Vancouver homeowners would be able to list their home for short term rental as long as it is their principal residence. They will have to apply for a business licence and pay an annual $49 fee to the city.

But other cities’ experience has shown that without platform accountability, the compliance rate will be very low, Cadabeschi said.

In a report published Sept. 12, Fairbnb outlines how San Fransisco adopted a regulatory framework similar to Vancouver’s. But over a 15-month period, just 15 per cent of short-term rental listers complied with the regulation.

Vancouver city staff have estimated the proposed regulations would have around a 25 per cent compliance rate within the first year. That’s not good enough, said Liam McClure of the Vancouver Tenants Union.

But Holm countered that right now, 100 per cent of short-term listings are illegal — so the hope is to bring as many into compliance as possible by educating listers and, where necessary, enforcing the new rules.

The proposed framework will go through a public hearing process this fall before returning to council.

“At that point we will receive direction as to what parts of the regulatory framework we’ll be moving forward with and would be implementing,” Holm said.

For its part, Airbnb said in an emailed statement, that it welcomes regulation and has always advocated for "fair, sensible home-sharing regulations."

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