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Richmond tenant runs illegal Airbnb behind landlord’s back, gets kicked out

Complaints of strangers trying to open neighbours’ doors led to the discovery of the operation
A stock image of someone unlocking a door.

A Richmond landlord is warning others after discovering his tenant had been running an illegal short-term rental in his condo.

When Bobby Ni rented his son’s condo out in September 2022, he was told the tenant and her son would be living together.

All seemed well at first. Ni was able to speak with the tenant’s previous landlord, whose comments didn’t raise any concerns, and he had met the tenant in person to sign the tenancy agreement. Although, that would be the last time he saw her face to face.

After the tenant moved in, she requested they communicate over text and would not pick up the phone. When Ni requested to inspect the condo later in November, the tenant claimed to be in Toronto and had her friend let Ni in instead.

Ni finally realized something was wrong when he found a letter from the building strata in the condo’s mailbox last month. The letter informed Ni that complaints had been made about a possible illegal short-term rental being operated in his unit and warned that a $200 penalty could apply if it was true.

According to the addendum to the tenancy agreement signed by the parties back in September, the tenancy agreement was to be “exclusive” and no “split renting” was allowed. Strata bylaws for the building also forbid residents from using the units as short-term rentals without a permit from the city.

Neighbours in the building had apparently sent in complaints after finding strangers trying to open their doors. Upon checking surveillance footage and records of the condo’s key fobs, the strata noticed different people had been using the same fob around the building every weekend.

When Ni asked to inspect the condo, he was once again referred to the tenant’s friend. The friend proceeded to tell Ni and his wife during their inspection that employees of his shop would occasionally stay in the condo for “a couple of days” while they received training.

According to usage records, the tenant’s key fobs were used on days she claimed to be away, and on one occasion, the fob was used more than 40 times in one day. Surveillance footage also saw people using the fob to enter an elevator in another building in the complex.

Ni told the Richmond News that the building strata had initially deactivated one of the fobs following complaints from neighbours, and later decided to deactivate both fobs after the tenant seemed to continue running an illegal Airbnb despite Ni’s warning.

Ni said he was “very furious” and “frustrated and depressed.”

“We cannot sleep well, eat well,” he said, “We just want them to move out.”

He added that property owners might have to take matters into their own hands as some aspects of the Canadian legal system can be “very slow.”

Unusual for owners to be unaware of illegal short-term rentals

According to Clay Adams, City of Richmond spokesperson, it’s “unusual” for illegal short-term rentals to happen without the owner and operator’s knowledge.

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of this situation, it is generally the property owner who would be subject to any fine and other bylaw enforcement action for an illegal short-term rental as they are responsible for their property.”

The Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) has also confirmed to the Richmond News that although RTB has been involved in disputes where tenants use rental units in ways not intended by the landlord, Ni’s dispute is not a common one.

In fact, all the complaints and disputes the RTB has dealt with regarding short-term rentals were tenant-initiated, which suggests that landlords have yet to file complaints about similar situations with the RTB.

Tony Gioventu, spokesperson for the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C., advises owners to include clauses in tenancy agreements to explicitly prohibit the use of the unit for Airbnb or any sublets/short-term accommodation. Owners can also seek advice from Landlord BC about their obligations and the best contracts to use.

Gioventu added that owners renting out their units through agencies should also make sure they have clear terms and conditions in the agreement and get legal advice before signing up.

“Agencies may assure a certain rental amount each month and then in turn use the units for Airbnb without the (owner’s) knowledge,” he said.

If the owner and tenant are unable to resolve the dispute between themselves, the owner may apply to the RTB for dispute resolution, where an arbitrator may hear evidence from both sides and make a binding decision.

Although Ni’s tenant finally agreed to move out after some negotiation, the experience left a sour taste in his mouth.

Various oddities such as the tenant and her “son’s” refusal to communicate by phone, an unknown name in the rent cheque and the tenant’s purported friend’s involvement have also left Ni suspecting it might have been a more involved operation.

“Justice is still (pending),” he said, adding that he hopes his story will help warn people to select their tenants carefully.

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