Latest study of Airbnb listings for Vancouver finds a majority are operating as commercial businesses

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      A new study of Airbnb listings in Vancouver has identified some of the city’s most prolific short-term hosts.

      Taking the top spot is “Drew”, who has 21 Airbnb listings for entire homes or apartments that are also “recent and frequently booked”. Most of those are located in Vancouver’s downtown core. From those listings, he earns an estimated $500,450 a year, according to a UBC student's analysis.

      “Soul” has 13 such units for rent on Airbnb, again mostly located downtown. He earns $416,000 in annual revenue from Airbnb.

      Coming in third is “Sarah”, who lists 11 entire homes or apartments that are also recent and frequently booked, indicating that it is likely no one is living in them and that they are used exclusively as hotel rooms rented on Airbnb. From those 11 listings, she makes an estimated $328,000 a year.

      The list continues like that. Vancouver’s top-20 Airbnb hosts together have 148 listings for entire homes or apartments that are also recent and frequently booked.

      When you loosen the criteria to simply look at the 20 hosts with the most Airbnb listings for Vancouver under one username, the number of whole apartments or houses those 20 people rent is 241.

      Airbnb is an online service that connects landlords with short-term tenants. That analysis was made with new data on Airbnb rentals in Vancouver published by Iain Marjoribanks, an undergraduate student of geography at UBC.

      He built on the work of Karen Sawatzky, an SFU student writing her master’s thesis on Airbnb, and Murray Cox, a New York–based photojournalist who runs a website called Inside Airbnb.

      The Straight previously reported that Sawatzky’s December 2015 analysis of the data revealed 1,248 Vancouver listings—or 26 percent of all Airbnb listings in the city—were for entire homes that were recent and frequently booked.

      In a telephone interview, Marjoribanks said that by focusing on Airbnb hosts listing multiple units, Vancouver can begin to understand how many people are using Airbnb to run a commercial business.

      “What I found was that 53 percent of hosts [in Vancouver] are commercial, and 77 percent of revenue came from commercial hosts,” he told the Straight. “Of that, 50 percent were small commercial, and then 27 percent were large commercial [listing three or more units under one username].”

      Marjoribanks defined an "extensive commercial" listing as a unit rented out more than 88 days of the year, and he found that there were 161 of those listings in Vancouver. He defined an "intensive commercial" listing as renting a unit between 58 and 88 days of the year and found there were 182 of those.

      Most of Drew's 22 listings on Airbnb are located within Vancouver's downtown core.
      Inside Airbnb

      He gave an example of one Airbnb host that caught his attention: “Lease It Furnished”, which has nine listings on Airbnb.

      “They have an office in Yaletown but they’re a property-management company for luxury condominiums in New York, Toronto, and Vancouver,” Marjoribanks said. “So we’re talking about international businesses that are getting into our commercial rental-property market in Vancouver.”

      Marjoribanks estimates that these Airbnb listings used as commercial businesses represent about 1.6 percent of the City of Vancouver’s total rental stock.

      “There are opportunities for Airbnb to help people stay in their homes and make a little money on the side,” he said. “But when it’s taking away from housing year-round—if people are taking full houses and making them unavailable for long-term renters—that becomes a problem.”

      The new information about Airbnb listings for Vancouver comes as the region feels a tight crunch on housing.

      According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the average rent for a studio apartment in the City of Vancouver was $982 per month in October 2015, $1,175 for a one-bedroom, and $1,643 for a two-bedroom. Last year, the vacancy rate for the city’s private apartments was 0.6 percent.

      Last April, the Straight reported that Airbnb can easily remove problematic listings like the ones to which Marjoribanks is calling attention. In New York and San Francisco, Airbnb has repeatedly deleted what it describes as “unwanted listings”.

      Interviewed for that article, 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 said at the time. “It would be great if they did.”

      Vancouver staff are reviewing how the city can best control short-term rentals like those organized on Airbnb as per a motion that was adopted by council on April 6.

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