Vancouver proposes Airbnb regulations that aim to weed out problem listings while allowing others to continue

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      This morning (September 28) Mayor Gregor Robertson announced new regulations that the city is proposing to bring Vancouver’s booming Airbnb market under control.

      “Our approach is to strike a balance between regulating the short-term rentals and ensuring that some people can continue to do that,” Robertson said at a news conference outside city hall. “Housing is first and foremost about homes, not about operating a business.”

      He repeatedly stressed that the city does not want to prevent people from sharing a portion of their home on Airbnb to supplement their income. For example, under the proposed regulations, a couple living in a two-bedroom condo would still be allowed to rent their unused second-bedroom on Airbnb.

      An example of the sort of Airbnb listing that the city is trying to eliminate is an entire apartment that is not occupied by its owner or a long-term tenant and is instead continually rented to short-term tenants, thus subtracting from the city’s housing stock.

      “We are primarily concerned about the impact of short-term rentals on the long-term rental supply, and are recognizing that there is space for people to have short-term rentals in their principle homes to help supplement income in this expensive city,” Robertson said.

      The rules would apply to all short-term rental services, including Airbnb competitors such as Cozy Stay, FlipKey, HomeAway, and many others.

      In addition to reaffirming existing bylaws that make unlicensed short-term rentals illegal, the proposed regulations would create a bureaucratic mechanism to legitimize the sort of short-term rentals that the city has said should be allowed to continue.

      People renting a spare room or couch on Airbnb would have to obtain a business license to continue with that activity without breaking the law. To obtain that license, they will have to prove they are the home’s principal resident and submit additional information. In turn, homes for which those licenses are granted could be subject to a hotel tax or other taxes, with that money re-invested by the city in affordable-housing initiatives.

      According to the city, the proposed regulations could return more than 1,000 units to Vancouver’s long-term housing stock.

      The vacancy rate for Vancouver's rental market is estimated to stand at 0.6 percent.

      Applying filters to data presented by the Inside Airbnb website shows a large number of Vancouver listings are for an entire place that is also available for more than 90 days of the year. That suggests some of these 2,408 units may not have full-time residents and are essentially operating as hotels.

      The Straight has reported extensively on how Airbnb is used in Vancouver and explored how the service is likely making life more difficult for renters in the city. Much of that reporting has relied on a website called Inside Airbnb and the work of an SFU master’s student named Karen Sawatzky.

      According to Inside Airbnb data, of 3,473 listings in the City of Vancouver as of June 1, 2016, 71 percent, or 2,466, were for an “entire place” (versus private or shared room). In addition, 318 Airbnb hosts in Vancouver (or 14 percent) have more than one property listed under their name.

      Many of those might be the sort of problem rentals that the city’s proposed regulations aim to eliminate.

      At the news conference, Robertson described the rules in the context of Vancouver’s housing-affordability crisis.

      “We have dangerously low vacancy rates, so it is incumbent upon the city to take bold steps, like regulating short-term rentals and dealing with empty homes to ensure that we get more homes back in the long-term rental market,” he said.

      The proposed legal framework for short-term rentals is scheduled to go to Vancouver city council next week, on October 5.

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