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Evicted for Airbnb, North Shore tenant says the system is failing

There are hundreds of short-term rentals operating on the North Shore but enforcement is scant.
A screengrab from Airbnb shows a West Vancouver home listed for short-term rentals, September 2022. The landlord has been ordered to pay the home's former tenant more than $40,000 after evicting the family to put the property up for short-term rentals. | Airbnb

A West Vancouver landlord has been ordered to pay his former tenants more than $40,000 after evicting them from their rental home to put the property on short-term rental sites like Airbnb.

But Eric Limoges says the province and municipalities aren’t doing enough to protect renters from illegal evictions in the first place.

Limoges and his family had rented a house on Taylor Way for about 10 years. The property was sold and, three days before Christmas 2021, they received an eviction notice, informing them they had two months to vacate because the new owner intended to move in.

Months after Limoges and his family packed up and moved to a new rental home in Delbrook, no one had moved in at his former residence, he said. When Limoges went to serve his former landlord, Heung Ryeol Yim, with the papers for a dispute at the Residential Tenancy Branch, he ran into a new tenant at the home who told him he was only there for a short time and that he rented the place via Airbnb. When Limoges looked into it further, he found at least 26 people had left reviews commenting on their pleasant stay at his former home.

“I kind of laughed, like, it was just so egregious,” Limoges said.

Limoges presented his case in a Residential Tenancy Branch hearing in October, which Yim did not attend, and in November, arbitrator Kimberley Akow awarded the tenants $40,629 – the equivalent of 12 months’ rent.

“I accept the undisputed documentary evidence and affirmed testimony before me for consideration from the former tenants and the witness that neither the purchaser nor their close family member(s) moved into and occupied the rental unit as required by the Two Month Notice, and that the rental unit was left vacant for several months before it was renovated and used as an Airbnb rental,” Akow wrote.

Requests for comment left at businesses in Saskatchewan that list Yim as owner were not responded to. A woman who answered a phone number associated with one of those businesses said Yim was in Korea and that she forwarded a request for comment to him via a Korean chat app. He also did not respond to a request for comment submitted directly via a short-term rental website.

A broken system

Getting the RTB ruling in his favour took Limoges most of 2022. Having the judgment enforced so he can actually receive his financial compensation will require another process through B.C. Supreme Court.

“I don’t see landlords writing cheques to their previous tenants. I just don’t see it happening,” he said.

Limoges is speaking up now, not because he wants sympathy but because he said his case highlights failures at the local and provincial level to prevent illegal evictions and the establishment short-term rentals that eat into the supply of properties that could otherwise be rented to people who live and work here.

“There’s a huge principle. I’m less concerned about our own experience, as opposed to the broader issue,” he said.

For a time, Limoges’ former home was put back on the long-term rental market but at more than double the price he was paying. Limoges, who is a financial adviser, said there is too much incentive for landlords to evict long-term tenants, even if they do face the maximum fine from the Residential Tenancy Branch.

“It costs nothing for this guy to do this because he doubled the rent. So be it that he has to pay us 12 months’ rent. I mean, he’s breaking even on Day 1,” he said. “It is good business sense to screw your tenants in today’s market.”

As of January 2023, the home is no longer on Airbnb but it is listed for $365 per night on Vrbo, another short-term rental site.

Already illegal

Short-term rentals aren’t permitted under the zoning bylaws of the districts of North Vancouver and West Vancouver but, a recent scan by Limoges found about 600 active listings on the North Shore on Airbnb alone.

Under West Van’s bylaws, a host could be fined $300. In North Van district, the fine is $500 (which is lowered to $375 if paid within 14 days). But neither municipality actively seeks out short-term rental hosts for ticketing.

“The enforcement process is challenging, as gathering evidence to prove short-term rentals is a really resource-intensive process, and given other caseloads and staffing levels, the fact is that West Vancouver has to take a reactive approach to that enforcement,” said Donna Powers, West Vancouver spokesperson. “The onus really is on the district to obtain that evidence and prove that the property is being used for Airbnb and this has to go beyond a verbal confirmation from a guest or a complainant or even an online ad.”

More often, when a property is subject to a complaint, staff will investigate and send a letter to the owner informing them they are in violation of the bylaw.

In 2021, West Van had 27 complaints about short-term rentals, which resulted in 13 letters and four bylaw tickets. In 2022, there were 24 calls resulting in nine letters and seven tickets. So far this year, there has been one complaint and one ticket, according to West Van.

In 2022, staff in the District of North Vancouver issued nine $500 bylaw infraction notices to hosts.

“What we try to do is continue to work with them and get them to comply, and most do,” said Dan Milburn, general manager of planning and permits, adding that “less than a handful” are repeat offenders.

A path to legalization

In 2022, District of North Vancouver council opened the door to legalizing and regulating short-term rentals, pending the results of public consultations. Staff are scheduled to report back to council on the matter on Feb. 13.

DNV staff do try to keep a tally on the number of short-term rentals operating nearby, Milburn said. Before the pandemic, it was around 800, dropping to less than 500 in 2020. A fresh count will be going to council on Feb. 13 but the most recent publicly available data from May 2022 showed 520, he said.

If council were to pursue a legalization and regulation approach through business licensing, it would mean having a budget available to be more proactive with enforcement for those breaking the bylaw, Milburn said.

Powers said West Vancouver council hasn’t revisited the size of the fine since 2011, when Airbnb was less of an issue, and council hasn’t expressed any interest in changes to the bylaw.

Political inaction

With such lax enforcement and so much legwork required for compensation, Limoges said the blame falls to the politicians who’ve crafted the rules that give short-term rental hosts so much room to manoeuvre.

“I read their platforms, and they all have plans for fixing the housing crisis,” he said. “The reality is, that with the average home price on the North Shore, nobody’s child, without the help of their parents, is ever going to own a property. And then we and then of course, we have the issue of supply.”

He suggested higher fines and more active enforcement as a way of getting people out of the short-term rental business and their properties put to better use on the long-term rental market.

MLA responds

North Vancouver - Lonsdale NDP MLA Bowinn Ma said when she first came to office, she was “inundated” with cases of tenants being mistreated by landlords. In 2019, the government made a series of changes to the act to close loopholes being used by landlords to carry out “bad faith” evictions, she said.

“That’s why it is now explicitly unlawful for landlords to evict tenants in order to replace them with Airbnb or to put them back on the market,” she said. “It’s a huge, huge improvement… And certainly I would hope that other landlords who are thinking of doing this will recognize the significant financial penalty that can be caused on them.”

In light of Limoges’ case, Ma said she is open to discussions about whether the penalty is stiff enough.

Entire properties being offered for short-term rentals would be subject to the province’s Speculation and Vacancy Tax, Ma said, and her staff can inform the Ministry of Finance if anyone believes the owner of a short-term rental property is flouting the law. In 2022, there were 151 West Vancouver property owners who were hit by the tax, paying a total of $6.6 million, although though most of them were “satellite” families, in which the family of the owner lives locally but the breadwinner lives outside the country.

And, she added, the Residential Tenancy Branch does have the ability to halt a bad faith eviction before it takes effect.

Airbnb did not respond to a request for comment on the issue. In their terms of service for hosts, they stipulate: “You are responsible for understanding and complying with any laws, rules, regulations and contracts with third parties that apply to your listing or host services.”

The home Limoges rents today has since been listed for sale. With so much competition for limited rental supply, if the new owner decides to evict them, the family will have no choice but to leave the North Shore for good, he said.

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