British Columbia

Thousands of Vancouver Airbnb listings still without licence in lead-up to deadline: analyst

A data analyst says nearly half of the 4,690 Airbnb listings in Vancouver didn't include a licence number, which they're required to do as per a new city policy.

Unlicensed providers face fines of up to $1,000 now that Aug. 31 deadline is up

There are thousands of listings for short-term rentals in Vancouver on Airbnb, but only about half include a licence number from the city. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

There were still thousands of short-term rentals in Vancouver operating without a licence leading up to the city's deadline, according to a data analyst — and some of those that do have a permit are dubious, he says.

Jens von Bergmann runs MountainMath Software, a data modelling and visualization company. Last week, as a side project, he scraped data from the popular short-term accommodation website Airbnb.

He says nearly half of the 4,690 listings didn't include a licence number, which they're required to do as per a new city policy

"That definitely is not where things should be at this point," von Bergmann said on Wednesday. 

The city's short-term rental policy took effect on April 19, but the city gave hosts until the end of day on Aug. 31 to get a licence and include it in their listing.

Von Bergmann also used the city's business licencing data to show that, although there was an uptick in the number of short-term rental licences leading up to the deadline, it seemed "extremely unlikely" the 2,246 unlicensed listings would all be compliant by then.

"I think there's some delusion on behalf of the operators that somehow these rules don't apply to them," he said.

The City of Vancouver refused to comment on von Bergmann's numbers, but said it will provide an update next week on the short-term rentals program when it has the complete, post-deadline data.

It's possible some hosts may have been taking advantage of busy summer months before unlisting their property, von Bergmann says, but he thinks those numbers are small. 

"I think the bylaw officers will be very busy," he said.

In a written statement, Airbnb said it will deactivate all listings that don't include a short-term business licence. Airbnb also said 22 per cent of Vancouver listings have been inactive over the past 12 months. 

Dubious licences

The bylaw restricts short-term rentals to the provider's primary home. Hosts caught listing secondary suites or commercial units on short-term rental websites face a fine of up to $1,000 for each infraction.

But von Bergmann says many listings he examined appeared to break those rules.

By comparing the Airbnb and city licensing data, von Bergmann says he noted that many of the licence numbers were being used for multiple listings. Almost 700 operators had more than one active listing, he said. One of them had 36 active listings. 

Von Bergmann said it's possible some operators could have several listings if they have separate ads for their entire home and different rooms of their home. Operators are allowed to do so, but they can only have one active booking at a time. 

However, he says some licence numbers were invalid — they appear to be completely made up. 

Airbnb's memorandum of understanding with the city shows the company isn't responsible for removing fraudulent listings from its site. Instead, it's up to the city to enforce those listings. 

In July, the city said it had investigated 2,181 suspected illegal listings, including 223 with duplicate or incorrect business licences. It also said 627 short-term rentals were delisted or converted to long-term rentals. 

The city points out that Airbnb is just one of several platforms that list short-term rentals. Others include Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), Craigslist and Kijiji. 

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About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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