Use Airbnb? Pilot project aims to highlight rights, responsibilities

If you're offering up or looking to rent a place on Airbnb in Waterloo Region, a new partnership between the province and the website wants to keep you informed about your rights.

Claim rental income on taxes and know your rights under contracts among lessons from new pilot project

Ontario and Airbnb have launched a pilot project to educate renters and property owners. (Airbnb)

Whether you're offering up your full basement in Cambridge or renting an economically-friendly room near the University of Waterloo, a new pilot project by Airbnb and the province is hoping to raise awareness about the rights and responsibilities of homeowners and renters.

The province announced the partnership on Friday and said the project will inform Airbnb users, including more than 300 people in Waterloo Region who have properties listed on the site, about how to report rental income under tax laws, accessibility requirements, safety and regulatory obligations, such as having a smoke alarm; and what rights consumers have when it comes to contracts, including cancellations and refunds.

Aaron Zifkin, the country manager in Canada for Airbnb, said in a press release that the company was "proud" to partner with the province to ensure hosts and guests had the information they need for the best experience.

"With this pilot, the province has reaffirmed their commitment to harnessing the power of new economic opportunities created by the sharing economy," Zifkin said.

Airbnb helps grow tourism

The Ontario government said this project is "harnessing the benefits of the sharing economy while protecting Ontario consumers and workers."

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said it is also part of the province's plan to grow the economy and create jobs.

"Studies show that the entire tourism industry is growing and opportunities are being created in communities across the province because of innovative companies like Airbnb," Sousa said.

The online lodging site, however, has met with opposition in neighbouring Quebec. The government tabled a bill in October that would penalize people who regularly rent out lodgings without a permit. While Bill 67 is not meant to be used against people who rent out their properties occasionally, there are people on Airbnb who use the service as a way to rent out a second property on a regular basis, and that's who the Quebec crackdown claims to be targeting.

Quebec's Bill 67 would define who is a tourist in the province, and notes there is a difference between tourist accommodation and occasional accommodation.

"We are not targeting these collaborative platforms, and we don't wish to constrain their existence. What we want is for people who run tourist accommodation in Quebec to follow the established rules," Quebec Tourism Minister Dominique Vien said in October.

'We have to adapt'

Ontario's move to work with "sharing economy" businesses could also spell bad news for those fighting against the increasing popularity of the ride-hailing app Uber. Taxi drivers in Toronto have been particularly vocal in their anger at the Uber service and have called on the city, province and federal government to regulate it.

Earlier this month, however, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario gave Aviva Canada permission to offer insurance coverage to private drivers that have paying customers in their vehicles.

The provincial legislature is also considering a private member's bill by Tim Hudak, MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook and the former leader of the Ontario PC party, which would legalized "sharing economy" companies.

"It reminds [me] a bit of [the] old battle between Napster and the music industry. We have to adapt," Hudak said in December.

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