The Quebec government plans to table a bill next month regulating online home-sharing services such as Airbnb, making it the first province in the country to crack down on the practice of renting rooms without a permit.
Renting out private houses and apartments has become increasingly popular, thanks to fast-growing websites like Airbnb that help tourists find short-term accommodation in homes and apartments around the world.
Online rental websites allow people to book a room in another person's home at a fraction of the price of a hotel room.
"What is not permitted is that some people promote a product that does not adhere to our law. That's the problem," said Minister of Tourism Dominique Vien.
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In Quebec, residents are not allowed to advertise online or rent out their apartment on a regular basis — for fewer than 31 days — without registering and paying a $250 fee.
The government says it's time to regulate the online industry.
"The whole issue of illegal accommodation — we cannot ignore the situation or pretend it doesn't exist.… It will lead me to table legislation," said Vien.
Imposing a tax
According to information obtained by Radio-Canada, the Quebec government plans to introduce legislation that would impose an accommodation tax. Also, there would be a fee equivalent to what hotels pay to the Quebec Tourism Industry Corporation for the classification of their establishment.
Quebec is also reportedly considering modelling itself after a practice used in other cities, such as San Francisco, where users are also charged a fee.
Quebec's tourism minister confirmed to Radio-Canada that its goal is to ensure fairness in the industry.
Over the last few years, Quebec's hotel industry has said the new trend is cutting into its members' profits.
The government says its other goal is to ensure that hotels are not the only ones pitching in to pay for the promotion of tourism.
Quebec will also further explore the penalty fees for offenders.
Currently, anyone renting out a room without a permit faces a fine ranging from $750 to $2,250. Repeat offenders could be fined as much as $6,750.
'A step in the right direction'
The Quebec Hotel Association says it is delighted, but remains cautious.
"This is a step in the right direction," said Patrick Thevenard, vice-president of the Quebec Hotel Association. "What we want is fairness."
Aaron Zifkin, the director of Airbnb Canada — the most popular website for this type of accommodation and which is accessible in 190 countries — told Radio-Canada he is collaborating with Quebec.
"What must be determined is: at what point is someone who occasionally rents his residence considered a business, and therefore taxed accordingly?" said Zifkin.
Vien said online home rentals must be legislated because the trend is here to stay. She said she would like to see her bill come into effect in 2016.