Last January, Airbnb quietly deleted almost 100 listings from the digital company’s hometown of San Francisco. The month before, it took similar action in New York, removing about 1,500 listings for that city. In both instances, the news was tucked inside a “by the number” report that presents a rosy picture of Airbnb, one where the majority of hosts don’t use the service in ways that might detract from a city’s rental stock.
Airbnb, an online service that connects landlords with short-term tenants, describes the inventory it removed as “unwelcome listings”. The technical filters that Airbnb applied before hitting the delete button targeted hosts who listed more than one entire home (as opposed to a spare room or a couch, which Airbnb maintains the service was designed for).
In a telephone interview, Vision Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs said he wants to see Airbnb take the same action in Vancouver.
“They could start on that tomorrow, as far as I’m concerned,” he told the Straight. “It would be great if they did.”
Meggs added that from a technical standpoint, it appears that would be a simple task for the tech giant to complete.
“It would be very straightforward, I would think,” he said. “I hope that they move forward and do that kind of thing here without waiting for us to prompt them. But it’s encouraging to know it can be done.”
Airbnb Canada did not make a representative available for an interview.
Meggs noted that on April 6, council passed a motion asking staff to study how the city can best control short-term rentals like those organized on Airbnb. He said that work includes discussions with Airbnb.
The city already has a very good idea how many Airbnb listings in Vancouver are likely subtracting from rental stock. According to a website called Inside Airbnb, in December 2015 there were 1,248 Vancouver listings for entire homes that were “recent and frequently booked”.
Karen Sawatzky is an SFU student writing her master’s thesis on Airbnb and rental housing in Vancouver. In a telephone interview, she suggested it is these listings that the company should target here as “unwelcome”.
“It’s just a matter of which filter you pick and click on,” Sawatzky said. “Of course they can do this.”
The report that went to city council on April 6 noted that Vancouver’s rental-vacancy rate stands at less than one percent.
NPA councillor Melissa De Genova told the Straight that short-term rentals like those listed on Airbnb and other websites such as VRBO.com are only one piece of the larger problem of rental affordability in Vancouver.
She suggested that Vision Vancouver’s focus on Airbnb could detract from more important conversations about how the city can create more rental stock.
At the same time, De Genova said she supports taking a closer look at the more than 1,200 units in Vancouver that could fall into Airbnb’s definition of “unwelcome listings”.
“We need to protect our rental stock in Vancouver, especially with the vacancy rate being so low,” she added.