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Vancouver Airbnb host calls $1,000 license fee 'just another kick in the teeth'

Vancouver City Council voted Wednesday to increase the annual licensing fee for operators of short-term rentals from $109 to $1,000

Coun. Lenny Zhou spearheaded the motion to increase the fee by more than twice the amount recommended by city staff. He says the move could bring in an additional $2 million per year, money that could be spent on cracking down on illegal operators.

"So the actual revenue, we're going to use that to enhance our enforcement process by hiring more enforcement officers," said Zhou. 

In addition to increasing its enforcement, Zhou says the funds will help with public engagement to help educate people on the rules of short-term rental hosting. 

The city has seen a surge in short-term rental listings, with Zhou estimating around 2,000 are operating either without a license or are circumventing the rules. These short-term rentals are being offered in a market where tenants looking for long-term housing are facing the lowest vacancy rates and highest prices in Canada.

Patrick Baldwin has been an Airbnb host in Vancouver for five years. 

"The increased licensing is just another kick in the teeth," said Baldwin, who lives with his family in East Vancouver.  

Baldwin tells CTV News he moved into his home in 2018 believing he'd be able to use the basement and laneway house as mortgage helpers in order to afford a home in Canada's most expensive city. 

However, in recent years Vancouver has added more restrictions to short-term rentals, impacting Baldwin's finances by as much as $20,000 per year.

For example, he says up until 2020 he was able to rent out his basement suite on Airbnb until the city altered its bylaws, forcing him to remove the suite as a short-term rental. He's still able to rent out the basement for a minimum of 30 days at a time or as a long-term rental but says the revenue is significantly less than short-term rentals. 

"We're relying on Airbnb revenues," said Baldwin, who grew up in Vancouver. "Our future is very uncertain."

Baldwin says he's not opposed to regulation, but believes the city should focus more on illegal hosts and investment properties. 

An Airbnb representative told CTV News the company is disappointed in the city council's decision. 

“With a primary residence restriction already in place, the dramatic and unnecessary fee increase hurts regular Vancouver citizens who are trying to make ends meet in an already expensive city to live in," said Nathan Rotman, policy lead for Airbnb in Canada. 

With many short-term rental hosts already operating illegally, we asked Zhou if the $1,000 fee could encourage more people to circumvent the rules. 

"The short-term rental market in Vancouver is still very profitable so I don't think people will, because of this $800 difference, go underground," said Zhou. "In fact, they can make up this money in two or three days."

Like Vancouver, New York City is also experiencing a housing crisis and the city recently announced changes to rules and enforcement to help increase supply. 

One housing researcher tells CTV News there's a link between the prevalence of short-term rentals and higher rental rates. 

”The greater the rate of Airbnb rentals you have in your neighborhood the faster the rate of rent increase," said Tsur Somerville, a UBC professor with experience in housing issues. "There’s a clear link there.”

The provincial government has said it will also be rolling out new short-term rental regulations this fall. Top Stories

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