Vancouver residents to get a say on Airbnb and short-term rentals at public hearing this week

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      There’s a public hearing tomorrow (October 24) that residents caught in Vancouver’s housing crunch will find of interest.

      The topic is short-term rentals like those listed on Airbnb.

      Advertising one’s apartment or a spare bedroom on Airbnb has always been illegal in the City of Vancouver. Yet thousands of people use the digital service and others like it to earn a little extra income. There’s also a sizable minority that’s using Airbnb to make quite a bit of money, essentially operating spare apartments as full-time hotels.

      Now, the City of Vancouver is asking for public feedback on how to best bring order to this unregulated market.

      The draft bylaws that council and the public will debate tomorrow would legalize much of the business that Vancouver residents have been doing on Airbnb for the last several years, but require those people renting a spare room or an apartment for a short time to obtain a business licence.

      The proposed regulations would only allow people to rent out their primary residence, a part of their primary residence, or a laneway house that’s used as a primary residence.

      For example, it would be okay for the owner of a two-bedroom apartment to rent out their second bedroom. An apartment owner could also rent out their entire home for one or two weekends every now and then.

      The regulations would not allow a Vancouver resident to, for example, rent out a condo for short periods (less than 30 days) that they own but do not live inside.

      In the past, the city has suggested a business licence for short-term rentals could cost $49 per year.

      The regulations would apply to all short-term rentals, including those on Airbnb competitors such as Cozy Stay, FlipKey, HomeAway, and others.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson has emphasized that the goal is to stamp out problematic short-term hosts using Airbnb in ways that subtract from the city’s rental supply.

      “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 in September 2016, when the city began to reveal details of its plans to regulate short-term listings.

      “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,” he continued.

      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 vacancy rate for Vancouver's rental market has long remained below one percent.

      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.

      According to Inside Airbnb data collected last December, 67 percent of City of Vancouver listings, or 3,179 units, consisted of an entire place. The data also showed that of those 3,179 Vancouver listings for an entire place, 76 percent or 2,408 units fall into a “high availability” category, meaning they are available to rent for more than 90 days per year.

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

      The public hearing is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in council chambers on the third floor of Vancouver City Hall.

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