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B.C.'s short-term rental policies on track, issues with enforcement remain

Different municipalities have different economic needs, making it difficult to implement provincewide regulations
With rental vacancy rates falling, there is a growing need to preserve long-term rental stock, according to UBCM.

Even though B.C. is on track with their policies to target short-term rentals like Airbnbs, issues still persist when it comes to enforcement and compliance throughout municipalities.

That's according to a panel discussion on April 5 at the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) housing summit in Vancouver.

McGill University states short-term rentals removed almost 14,000 units from B.C.'s long-term rental market in 2021. 

That is equivalent to roughly two per cent of the 670,000 units in the province’s long-term rental market. In 2022, Vancouver's rental vacancy rate fell to 0.9 per cent, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. 

In order to preserve long-term rental stock, both the B.C. government and UBCM have put in place policies and recommendations. However, problems arise when it comes to enforcement of these policies across B.C. due to municipalities having so much variation in resources, according to the panellists. 

Approximately 50 local governments in B.C. have implemented bylaws to tackle short-term rentals and roughly 25 have business licensing that is meant to restrict these types of rentals, according to UBCM. 

Enforcement of these bylaws and business licensing is “often unsuccessful or even feasible” in smaller municipalities and regional districts, said Gord Enemark, executive director for the housing policy branch at the Ministry of Housing. 

In January 2020, UBCM and the ministry formed an advisory group to tackle the issues related to short-term rentals. 

“Every community is different. We recognize that Whistler is not Vancouver, it's not Kamloops. So, what we come up with has to respect local economies and local issues, but at the same time, striking that balance to try to get more of that short-term housing back into the long-term rental market,” Enemark said. 

While the City of Vancouver has an entire task force dedicated to monitoring and enforcing short-term rental policies, regional districts like Thompson-Nicola, which encompasses roughly 44,449 square kilometres, only have one bylaw enforcement officer, according to Regina Sadilkova, general manager of development services for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. 

Sadilkova reached out to 27 regional districts to understand how they tackle issues related to short-term rentals. Out of the 27, 17 responded and indicated that they take a “reactive” rather than “proactive” approach, she said. 

While there is a need for short-term rentals to accommodate travel in the area, there is an impact from these types of rentals on sale values of homes, she said. 

“We're doing building permits for million-dollar homes and I think that they factored in the profit from the short-term rentals that would be staying. This isn't going away in the future, this entire system somehow has to adjust to this,” Sadilkova said. 

In 2021, the top 10 per cent of short-term rental hosts earned roughly half of the revenue for this market, according to McGill University. 

In order to restrict short-term rentals in Vancouver and protect long-term rental stock, anyone wanting to use their residence on a platform such as Airbnb must have a valid business licence. This must be included in all online listings and advertising, according to the City of Vancouver. 

In addition, rentals must be restricted to no more than 30 days and must be operated from the individual's place of residence. If a laneway home or secondary unit is being used, it must be owner-occupied, meaning that vacant units used for Airbnbs in Vancouver are against city regulations. 

One issue that the city runs into often is the need for consistent data, according to Claire Thompson, manager of proactive enforcement.

“We get a lot of great data from Airbnb on a regular basis and that’s been really impactful for our program but there's a significant market presence that we don't have any eyes on. So we had to use different tools and that takes different data considerations in regards to compliance. Having equitable data across all the platforms for the whole industry is really another key piece in regards to tackling compliance here,” Thompson said. 

One of the recommendations at the end of the panel was to target short-term rentals through property tax. As a deterrent, those who run short-term rentals could be charged commercial property tax rather than residential.