Data scan finds more than half of Vancouver Airbnbs are breaking city rules
VANCOUVER -- A new scan of short-term rentals in Vancouver has concluded that there are more hosts appearing to break the City of Vancouver’s rules than are abiding by them — though the figures are disputed by one of the biggest short-term rental platforms.
And one of those potential rule-breakers may actually have been appointed to a city panel designed to address the problem, according to housing advocate Rohana Rezel, who designed the program that got the data.
“I found that more than half of all the listings are non-compliant,” said Rezel. “The people who may have been worried about the City of Vancouver doing any enforcement have become more brazen.”
The rules were implemented in past years to limit the impact of short-term rentals on the city’s expensive housing market, chiefly by restricting them to primary residences and requiring them to display a licence.
Rezel’s program scanned public listings on the largest short-term rental website, Airbnb, and compared them to a public list of short-term rental licences prepared by the City of Vancouver.
He said of the approximately 2,900 listings available to be booked for less than 30 days, about 1,300 are using expired licenses. He said about 160 are claiming “dubious exemptions,” 103 are reusing a licence for multiple homes, and 47 are using “obviously fake” licences.
Airbnb itself disputed Rezel’s findings, telling CTV News in a statement, “This is a ridiculous and inaccurate description of the state of the short-term rentals in Vancouver,” adding that the platform has an agreement to share data with the City of Vancouver, which is responsible for enforcement of city rules.
That enforcement may have taken a hit as the city struggles during a pandemic, said Coun. Pete Fry.
“Our staff are totally overwhelmed with the response to COVID-19,” he said. “We have a lot of challenges with capacity but it’s a big concern if they’re not following city rules.”
The city has appointed 14 volunteers to a short-term rentals community working group, which will meet five times over the next year to give feedback on city rules and procedures. The group was designed to have feedback from strata council members, renters, and short-term rental hosts.
Three of the listings that turned up in the scan appeared to be operated by one of the people who had just been appointed to the group, said Rezel. He said the person is operating three listings with one expired licence.
CTV News reached out to that person via Airbnb, but didn’t hear back.
Fry said it may be a good thing that someone on the panel doesn’t have a current licence — because part of the consultation can be to better understand why.
“Maybe having a non-compliant host is a good measure to getting a well-rounded workshop, and maybe they’ll be compliant coming out of this workshop,” he said.
Another working group member, Ulrike Rodrigues, joined after a long battle against as many as a dozen units that operated under one landlord in her East Vancouver building at the same time.
“We had some unusual scenarios of creating noise and problems,” she said, adding that not having people live in the building deprived some residents of a chance to build community with neighbours.
A B.C. tribunal ordered that landlord to stop operating short-term rentals in July. The landlord told CTV News that he has.
Realtor Noam Dolgin was also appointed to the short-term rental working group. He said he wants to help the city find a balance, so people can use the platform the way it was initially designed: to let people rent out spare rooms or get some income while on vacation.
“It’s so important that people who want to fill their homes can do if they’re on vacation, make a bit of money. I travelled on Airbnb in its early days. I think it’s a really wonderful option so we need to make sure it works for people,” he said.
Dolgin said he helped a strata write bylaws that allowed short-term rentals but limited them to 90 days in a year, which is working well so far, he said.