Airbnb urges city not to let hosts 'fall through the cracks' ahead of vote on proposed rules

Alex Dagg, public policy manager at Airbnb Canada, made an appearance on Metro Morning ahead of the vote on short-term rental regulations on Monday to share her thoughts.

Airbnb public policy manager says city should avoid narrow definition of ‘primary residence’

Alex Dagg, public policy manager at Airbnb Canada, shared her thoughts on a suite of proposed regulations for short-term rentals being discussed by the mayor's executive committee on Monday. (CBC)

A third of Toronto listings on Airbnb could disappear if regulations governing the short-term rental market are approved by the city.

The mayor's executive committee is expected to look at proposed regulations on Monday. There are nearly 11,000 properties listed on Airbnb in Toronto.

New licensing fees and restrictions which require hosts to list only the properties that are their primary residences are among the possible rules being looked at.

Alex Dagg, public policy manager at Airbnb Canada, made an appearance on Metro Morning ahead of the vote to share her thoughts.

Some questions and answers have been condensed

What are, in your mind, the possible implications of losing a third of your Toronto listings?

The fact is, the vast majority of our hosts are already sharing their primary residence. And we're pleased that the city has done such a comprehensive report to look at home sharing and is moving towards regulating home sharing, because regulating it means to recognize home sharing, which is super important for our families here in Toronto.

The city says 7600 properties in Toronto would still be allowed, but 3200 would be delisted. That's pretty significant.

Those are calculations done by the city based on some data we provided to them. One of the things that we're going to be talking about today that we want to flag for the city and for the decision makers here is that when you're talking about a primary residence I think it's really important to define it broadly enough so we don't have people falling through the cracks.

An example is a retired couple who actually live up north but have an apartment here in the city that they use from time to time. There's no policy reason why they shouldn't be able to share that apartment in the city, even if their technical primary residence may be their cottage up north.

There are also lots of examples of people who work in two different cities so I think really the thing to talk about here is focusing on one primary Toronto address or one address so that families aren't unfairly penalized.

One of the issues that came up during a conversation with the city's licensing department is the concern about all these people who are being evicted from apartments and then see them show up the next week on Airbnb, or people who are buying multiple units [to rent] — isn't that a legitimate concern? 

That's certainly the direction the city has suggested. And we think Tracy Cook's team [from the city's licensing department], again, has done a pretty comprehensive job at trying to understand what the home sharing community looks like. Our concern is to make sure there's enough flexibility for our families here, that we don't define this so narrowly that families fall through the cracks. Families are complicated these days — extended families, adult children who move away and come back — and it's important that people need to have flexibility in their space so they can continue to live in such an expensive city.

Licensing has said it will be mindful of people who have had negative impacts as a result of living near Airbnbs with a high turnover of guests. Would you want to live next to a condo that's being rented by people who were coming and going and weren't permanent residents?

I'm a Torontonian and Airbnb host as well here in the city. To be a host requires a lot of responsibility, and that's something we feel really strongly about, that people take this and ensure best practices. I really think our host community here is super responsible, they're Torontonians as well and really want to be good community partners.

But if you're not on site, how can you determine how people are using the unit? It's different if someone's in your spare room, but if it's a rental unit, how can you do that?

Many people share their home while they're away travelling for work as well. There's a lot of protections built into our system — double-blind mutual review systems, that kind of thing. There's a lot of integrity on our platform that's based on the key principles of trust and safety. I really think that our hosts take a lot of measures to protect the integrity of our system here.

There's also a licensing fee proposed — between $5 and $20,000, plus more per listing. Is the company prepared to pay that?

We think we should pay our fair share, we think that's appropriate. We also believe that there should be a hotel tax fairly applied across our system and treated the same as hotels here. We think that's appropriate. There are going to be more consultations over the next couple of months. We'll be talking about what those fees actually are, because they've proposed a range and we need to understand what that is and what the impacts of that are going to be.