British Columbia

Vancouver strata sting nets $45K fine for repeat Airbnb rental offender

A scofflaw Vancouver Airbnb owner has been ordered to pay more than $45,000 in fines after the president of her strata council went undercover to prove the woman was using her condo for short-term rentals.

Suqian Zhang claimed her brother, friend and realtor were using the Yaletown unit but strata proved otherwise

Airbnb's co-founder speaks during an event in San Francisco. A Vancouver woman has been ordered to pay more than $45,000 in fines for repeatedly renting out her condo through the online service. (The Associated Press)

The profile for the condo listed by Nana C warned that Vancouver's Airbnb market was "still in a gray area" — telling potential renters: "you will see signs says 'No Airbnb'. Please be discrete."

But the visitor who paid $563.62 to book the unit for one night in September 2018 had no plans to keep quiet.

And he knew all about the objections of Nana C's neighbours — because he was one of them.

He was, in fact, Nana C's strata council president.

And as a result of the undercover sting, the suite's scofflaw owner has now been ordered to pay more than $45,000 in fines for repeatedly violating the building's short-term rental bylaws.

'Her friends may have held parties'

A member of B.C.'s Civil Resolution Tribunal issued the ruling against Suqian Zhang this week after the strata went to the small claims body to enforce fines issued for dozens of contraventions of her building's rules.

In strata housing, condo owners have title to their individual lots, but own the common property and common assets of a building as a strata corporation. More than 1.5 million British Columbians live in strata housing.

A unit in this building in Vancouver's Yaletown neighbourhood commanded more than $500 a night in September 2018. The owner has been ordered to pay more than $45,000 in fines. (bccondos.net)

The building at the heart of the dispute is in the trendy downtown Yaletown neighbourhood.

According to the tribunal decision, Zhang's strata council passed a bylaw in May 2016 limiting rentals to a minimum of 30 days and prohibiting the use of units for "hotel purposes."

In April 2018, the City of Vancouver introduced regulations limiting short-term rental — 30 days or less — to the principal residences of people with short term rental business licences.

The strata followed up in May 2019 with new rules forbidding the use of units for short-term accommodation by anyone who "directly or indirectly" pays the owner.

Zhang claimed only three different tenants occupied her unit during the period in question, from April 2018 to June 2019.

"The owner says that she allowed her brother, his friend and her real estate agent to caretake the unit while she was out of the country," tribunal member Julie Gibson wrote.

"The owner thinks her friends may have held parties in the unit."

'Occasional guests'

But the evidence culled from the strata president's undercover operation suggested otherwise.

"[He] took several photographs of the suite's interior, which show it was set up for short-term stays rather than long-term occupancy," Gibson wrote.

"I make this finding because the closets, nightstands and shelves in the unit appear empty except for paper products and bed and bath linens."

Gibson also noted that at some point Nana C put out a post that said "most of the strata does not approve Airbnb" — proving she was knowingly violating the building bylaws.

Zhang's unit comes with the use of two parking spaces. Her neighbours recorded licence plates of more than 60 vehicles using one of the spots during the 14-month period in question.

The owner claimed her tenants must have had "occasional guests" and that other people must have been using the spot without her knowledge.

But Gibson rejected that argument.

"Occupants would have needed parking fobs or other permitted access to be able to park in the secured parking lot," she wrote.

"That is, the owner would have been aware that they were using the parking because she would provide, or arrange for someone else to provide, a parking fob."

The strata had to prove that Zhang was using the unit as an Airbnb and that they had followed their own procedures with regards to warnings and the issuing of fines ranging between $500 and $1,000 for each contravention.

To that end, the strata drew up a chart listing all the violation dates and amount of fines.

Zhang claimed that she should have been given more time to respond to the allegations because she was frequently in China and had limited email access. But Gibson ruled against her.

She has 30 days to pay the strata a total of $46,400.77 — an amount that includes the tribunal fees.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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