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Short-term rentals generate almost 300 complaints

City staff recommends measures to regulate operators of Airbnb and other rental services
Kathryn Holm
Kathryn Holm, the city’s chief licence inspector, and Mayor Gregor Robertson held a news conference Wednesday to roll out the city’s approach to regulate the short-term rental industry. Photo Jennifer Gauthier

The city has received almost 300 complaints from residents in the last 18 months regarding short-term rental accommodations offered through such online services as Airbnb and Expedia, according to chief licence inspector Kathryn Holm.

Residents have complained through the city’s 311 phone centre about noise, parking issues, garbage, property damage and concerns about safety in buildings in which owners and renters rent their places to guests. Last year, complaints totalled 144. So far this year, the city has logged 150 complaints.

“We certainly are seeing an increased amount of feedback from the public,” said Holm, who revealed the statistics at a news conference Wednesday with Mayor Gregor Robertson to promote the city’s approach to regulate short-term rentals.

City staff has prepared a report that will go before council July 11 that recommends a series of measures to regulate the growing short-term rental industry, which makes up 30 per cent of Vancouver’s accommodations for tourists, according to the mayor.

“Airbnb is effectively Vancouver’s largest hotel,” said Robertson, noting Airbnb cooperated with the city to develop measures to regulate the industry, although he pointed out the company and others have “gobbled up a lot of the long-term rental supply.”

Airbnb and Expedia represent about 90 per cent of the online short-term rental units available in Vancouver. A city report that went before council in 2016 showed 6,400 Airbnb listings in 2015, with the majority concentrated downtown. The report noted listings in Vancouver have almost doubled every year since 2013.

Once the regulations are adopted, the mayor said, the city estimates at least 1,000 rental units currently used for short-term rentals could be freed up for longer term rental. That’s because operators of those units would be in violation of the regulations.

“Our bottom line continues to be that our housing is for homes first, and for business and investments second,” Robertson said.

The measures include:

  • Operators of short-term rentals must obtain an annual $49 business licence and pay a one-time “activation fee” of $54.
  • Short-term rental services such as Airbnb and Expedia will apply a transaction fee of up to three per cent, which would be remitted to the city to help fund the administration and enforcement of licensing operators of rentals.
  • Have all operators and service providers pay applicable federal and provincial taxes. Also, have provincial and federal governments take steps to ensure operators pay sales and income tax.
  • Operators must list their business licence number on the short-term rental site.
  • Operators are required to comply with building safety, “neighbourhood fit,” and advertising and booking requirements.

The proposed regulations don’t allow secondary residences to be used for short-term rentals. Legal secondary suites or laneway homes which are not principal residences, or illegal secondary suites, are also prohibited.

The mayor said the city is taking “a balanced approach” to regulating the short-term rental industry. He pointed out up to 70 per cent of the current short-term rental supply will continue to be available and legal, if operators abide by new regulations.

“Our focus is on ensuring we do protect our long-term rental housing, and also that we sure people can make supplemental income from short-term rentals,” he said. “It has become an important income source for many Vancouverites.”

Holm said the city will enforce the new regulations through audits and legal action, and first target arrangements where multiple suites are being rented through rental service providers. She said the city will keep a registry of operators who comply.

“The city is currently and will continue to take action against particularly egregious large commercial operators and listings with significant public impact,” she said, noting fines could reach $1,000. “It really will be dependent on how the activity occurs and what the situation is, and whether we would pursue a fine or whether we would pursue a prosecution.”

If council approves the regulations, the public will have a chance to weigh in at a public hearing in the fall. That would set up the regulations to be in place by April 2018. Until then, rentals of less than 30 days are only permitted in areas zoned and licensed for hotels and bed and breakfasts.