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Vancouver Airbnb rules should be reviewed with COVID-19 precautions in mind: councillor
Vancouver's skyline at sunrise is shown in this undated handout photo. Vancouver has been placed on travel site Lonely Planet's top ten list of cities to visit in 2020. (Destination BC/Albert Normandin via The Canadian Press)
VANCOUVER -- A Vancouver city councillor says the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the need to tighten regulations on short-term rental sites like Airbnb.
In a motion coming up at the week's city council meeting, Pete Fry is proposing city staff review the city's existing framework around short term rentals. Those regulations allow residents to apply for a license to rent their principal residence only for less than 30 days.
There have been persistent questions around the role of platforms like Airbnb play in taking rental suites off the long-term rental market and contributing to housing shortages in cities around the world, including in Vancouver.
Fry said it's evident that many Airbnb units in Vancouver have now been put on the long-term rental market. But his motion identifies three areas of concern.
Hotels have been decimated by the measures, such as strict travel restrictions, put in place to contain the pandemic. As the recovery proceeds, Fry said he's concerned that units will again be put on the short-term rental market, and will compete with hotels in the city.
"Hotels occupy a lot of real estate, employ a lot of people, their recovery will be impacted by short-term rentals – should short term rentals get ahead of them on that?" Fry asked.
He also argued that hotels are more highly-regulated when it comes to cleaning procedures, which will become an important safety procedure to prevent the future spread of COVID-19.
Airbnb says it has developed a new cleaning protocol, or for hosts that can't commit to that new protocol, an option to keep suites empty for a period of time between guests.
Fry also has questions around the mechanics of converting short-term rental to long-term rental, uses that require different licenses from the city to operate.
He wants more clarity around whether B.C.'s Residential Tenancy Act applies when a short-term rental converts to long-term use, and whether tenants are protected from eviction if a landlord wants to convert the unit back to the more lucrative short-term rental use as the economy recovers.
Fry also wants a review of existing regulations to include a look at the current practice to redact the addresses of short term rentals in the city's public database.
That restriction protects the privacy of people who have short term rental licenses, but it makes it impossible for property managers and strata council to know whether a resident in their building is doing short-term rental, possibly in violation of strata rules or against their landlord's wishes.
Fry would like to see property managers and strata councils be able to access the address data upon request.
"I'm hearing from property managers and landlords who don't even know if they have Airbnbs in their building," Fry said. "People are anxious with strangers walking through the building, touching the elevator buttons, touching the doors."