High noon at the Oasis: B.C. Airbnb hostel battle erupts into open
Defiant North Vancouver townhouse hotelier vows to keep defying wishes of exasperated neighbours
One evening this week, Emily Yu sat up until 2 a.m. angrily responding to comments posted on a TV news website in reaction to a story about her battle with other residents in her townhouse complex, called a strata.
The next morning found Yu sipping coffee in her kitchen opposite a groggy boarder from New Zealand.
On the pavement out front, neighbours had piled copies of the local paper, a story about their fight with Yu prominently featured on the front page.
The strata, the city and the courts have all told Yu to stop using her three-bedroom, five-level North Vancouver home as an Airbnb hostel. But the 42-year-old is not a woman given to taking no for an answer.
"I believe I'm right," Yu says firmly.
"I'm going to continue to fight for my rights. This is my home. I have a right to enjoy my property. My strata they can say whatever they want, but they don't have a right to [take away] my civil right of enjoying my property."
Cease and desist — again!
Last September, B.C.'s Civil Resolution Tribunal upheld nearly $7,000 in strata bylaw fines related to Yu's rental of her property to "a changing group of 10 to 20 strangers per night." Strata-titled properties, similar to condos, own the land in common and can create bylaws to govern residents.
The bylaws were amended in 2016 after Yu started renting out as many as 15 beds a night on Airbnb. The bylaws don't mention her by name — but the message is pretty clear.
Residents are expressly prohibited from using units as short-term accommodation: "bed-and-breakfast, lodging house, hotel, home exchange, timeshare or vacation rental."
But as the tribunal pointed out, Yu only appeared to escalate her activity after the bylaws passed.
North Vancouver issued a cease-and-desist letter; inspectors noted the presence of vending machines in the hallway.
And after the tribunal ruled in their favour, the strata went to B.C. Supreme Court to enforce the payment of fines.
Even Airbnb announced Yu's suspension as a host this week as the company takes time to "investigate this further."
'We actually feel pretty helpless'
But shell-shocked residents say Yu is like some kind of short-term rental "Terminator" — the more she's hit, the stronger she gets.
"It's actually quite comical," says Erin Wasney, who lives a few units away.
"The fact that our legal system, our bylaws, our municipal government is allowing this to occur — if you were running any other type of illegal business, it would be shut down."
"Frustration" barely begins to cover it, she says.
"Here we're talking about a 15-bed hostel. There's fire concerns. There's concerns of bed bugs. There's concerns of insurance. And then there's just the weird strangers that are coming up and down the pathway inside our complex," says Wasney.
"As a group and a community, we actually feel pretty helpless. We are doing everything financially possible to put an end to this. And now, recently, we're talking to the media."
'They just cannot open their hearts'
On a sunny afternoon, the placid pathways at the Beeches townhouse complex belie the tension behind the walls
After losing at the Civil Resolution Tribunal, Yu filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court in which she claimed to have "been threatened, targeted and her privacy ... invaded by many of the strata members."
She also claimed brain injuries from a series of car accidents had left her unable to hold a job. And that she had filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
A judge dismissed that petition as well.
Sitting in her kitchen, Yu says she started hosting homestay students more than a decade ago. She says she's doing what she can to provide a landing pad for people struggling to get a foothold in a new community. And she believes her rights should be grandfathered.
"My neighbours — they are really emotional. I offer a legitimate business helping people to get settled in Canada to make a contribution to our country and our society," she says.
"All these things created by my neighbours. The reason they create all these rumours is because they just cannot open their hearts and their arms to embrace new immigrants and travellers to be a part of our society."
Big winners: lawyers and vintners
Next door neighbour Maeve Chamberlaine points out bunk beds visible in a room on the second floor.
She says her heart isn't closed — but the noise next door sometimes forces her to shut her windows.
It's hard to say where the battle will end. Previous condo conflicts have resulted in owners being forced to sell.
Yu says she'll keep fighting: "I'm going to continue to follow my values and vision to continue to go on this journey until they change the policy."
And in the meantime, all neighbours say they can do is laugh, cry — and pay.
"The two people who are winning in this case first and foremost are the legal system and the B.C. wine industry," says Wasney.
"They are fuelling our coping mechanisms."