City council legalizes short-term rentals
Vancouver has joined the ranks of large cities around the world that have moved to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms.
On Tuesday, council approved regulations to address the more than 6,000 short-term rentals in the city, finally legalizing an industry that has exploded in popularity over recent years despite operating in a grey zone.
“This is a straightforward regulatory approach,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “It is definitely balanced in terms of cities around the world and how they approach this.”
Robertson said short-term rentals affect the rental housing supply, particularly in cities like Vancouver where there is a rental housing crunch and a near-zero rental vacancy rate.
The new rules “will make sure that almost 80 per cent of those (short-term rentals) currently out there are actually legal rather than illegal and that (with) the balance we see some return to long-term rentals,” he said.
The city estimates about 1,000 units will return to the long-term market.
The decision came on the same day Airbnb announced it is setting a 120-day cap a year for hosts renting out a property in central Paris. On Monday, Seattle city council voted to impose a tax of $8 per night for rooms or $14 per night for entire homes on short-term rental operators starting in 2019.
The issue of how to regulate short-term rentals drew more than 100 speakers to two days of public hearings in October.
Critics of Airbnb say the homesharing giant is exacerbating Vancouver’s tight rental housing market because it is more lucrative for landlords to cater to tourists rather than its residents. Supporters of Airbnb say the ability to rent out their homes on a part-time basis helps them make ends meet.
Under the new rules, which would take effect April 1, homeowners or renters can rent out part or all of their principal homes for less than 30 days at a time after getting a $49 annual licence and paying a $54 one-time activation fee.
Short-term rentals are prohibited for secondary homes, secondary suites and laneway homes — a point that drew fire from property owners unable to put their homes up for long-term rentals who said the regulations are depriving them of much-needed income.
“We think that is unnecessarily restrictive,” said Airbnb policy director Alex Dagg, citing Airbnb data that shows homeowners sharing a secondary suite rent out the units on average for only three months every year. “These are not, in our view, units that will be going back to the long-term market.”
There are about 550 secondary suites in Vancouver on their platform, says Airbnb. The majority of hosts rent out primary homes.
Under the new rules, operators are required to include the business licence on their listing or face a fine of up to $1,000.
To ensure compliance, the city will have a dedicated enforcement co-ordinator and an additional inspector to support complaintdriven inspections and audits.
Some NPA councillors who voted against the proposal expressed concern over the costs of enforcement. “We’re just creating more bureaucracy and more taxation ... and we’re not solving the problem,” said Coun. George Affleck. “It’s just making it a harder place to live for everybody.”
Council also passed an amendment by Coun. Tim Stevenson that will require staff to reassess the ban on secondary suites if the city’s rental vacancy rate hits four per cent.
Dagg said Airbnb will meet with the city next week to discuss the implementation of the new regulations. She also said it is important other short-term rental platforms comply with the rules.
Airbnb, which has an 82 per cent market share in Vancouver, is the only platform that participated in the public hearings.
Vancouver’s new rules regulating home-sharing companies like Airbnb will take effect on April 1.