SFU students launch 'Airbnb of parking' to rent out your spot

Students launch app to let Vancouverites rent out their parking spot to others, but city says without proper permits it's another part of the sharing economy that may run afoul of the law.

City of Vancouver says renting parking is 'typically not allowed' without permits

Simon Fraser University students Thamer Matar, left, and Baker Al-Nakib have built an app called OpenSpot. (Simon Fraser University)

The idea started last summer, when SFU students Thamer Matar and Baker Al-Nakib were looking for cheaper parking at the university's Burnaby, B.C., campus.

The 24-year-old roommates knocked on doors, looking for anyone living up there who had an open spot they could rent.

After "a lot of nos," said Matar, they landed two spots for $30 per month — about a quarter the going rate.

The idea for their new app, OpenSpot, was born.

"We wanted to find a solution for the parking problem in Vancouver," said Matar, a systems engineering student.

They're calling OpenSpot the "Airbnb of parking": when someone isn't using their spot, they can make it available for rent online, and drivers can find parking that otherwise wouldn't be available without wasting time and gas.

But like the vacation-rental site Airbnb and others in the so-called sharing economy, renting out parking to strangers may raise issues with neighbours and the law.

Rent your driveway

OpenSpot, itself, is only in its infancy: since its launch May 17, it has about 30 parking spots for rent and about 250 users, its founders said.

Matar and Al-Nakib point to particular problem areas where they think OpenSpot can help, including the notoriously hard-to-park streets of downtown Vancouver's West End.

"You'd be looking around for 15 minutes, even when you're late," said Matar.

The app wouldn't give a user access to permit parking on the street or secure garages that require a key fob. Rather, someone with a residential or commercial space that was sitting unused could make extra cash renting it out, they said.

They also point to the parking crush in Hastings-Sunrise, near the PNE, where some homeowners wave signs renting out parking to fair-goers seeking a spot.

That has been a controversial practice in the neighbourhood, with the city cracking down in the past on the number of cars, but Matar said the app would be both safer and have a built-in limit on how many spots one user can rent.

"You can't rent out your full driveway, plus your backyard, plus your side parking," said Matar.

"You can just rent out your driveway when you're not using it."

They also see potential for churches to capitalize on their parking spots, which often have high demand on Sundays but may sit empty other times of the week.

'Typically not allowed' says city

However, the app is already raising questions, with one property management corporation sending a letter today to "strongly discourage" condo owners from using OpenSpot.

"We would stress that any owners considering using this application (where permitted) are mindful of the security concerns associated with allowing non-residents into your parking areas," wrote Adam Glover of Atira Property Management.

The City of Vancouver is in favour of the idea of sharing parking spots, to reduce "cruising" for parking and the greenhouse gas emissions that come with it but actually doing it is complicated.

In the West End, the city's parking strategy includes sharing, said communications manager Amanda McCuaig.

"We are looking at unlocking unused parking throughout the West End," McCuaig said in a statement. "But we're not really there yet."

Making it happen will require careful conversations with building managers, residents and security companies to make sure it "does not negatively impact neighbours."

In the meantime, the city says, using an app to rent your spot isn't legal without the proper permits and licences.

"Similar to renting out an apartment, renting out a parking space that is outside of its primary use is typically not allowed in the City of Vancouver," said McCuaig.

OpenSpot's founders said they are in discussions with the city.