British Columbia

Vancouver councillor calling for review of short-term rental regulations in wake of COVID-19

Coun. Pete Fry is worried about bylaw violations, health and safety measures, and platforms like Airbnb competing with an already hard-hit hotel industry.

Coun. Pete Fry worried about bylaw violations and competition for hard-hit hotel industry

Coun. Peter Fry is calling on city staff to recirculate memos to all short and long-term licence holders to remind them of the rules. (John Locher/Associated Press)

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a blow to the local hotel industry and that's one of the reasons Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry says he is pushing a motion to review the city's framework on short term rentals like Airbnb listings.

Fry is proposing city staff tighten the regulations on these rentals. In his motion, he cites issues such as units being rented longer than the permitted 30 days, lack of strata permission to run an Airbnb, as well as no appropriate oversight of safety standards in the context of COVID-19.

Fry is also concerned that as the province starts to recover, units will again be in direct competition with the hotel industry, which has taken a hard economic hit due to the virus.

According to Nathan Rotman, public policy manager for Airbnb Canada, Vancouver did not have enough hotel rooms for visitors before the pandemic and the platform is not a threat to the industry.

"We have no doubt tourism will recover, conventions will come back, and there will be room for both industries to succeed in that new world," said Rotman on CBC's The Early Edition on Tuesday.

Fry's motion says hotels in the city account for over 70,000 full time jobs. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ingrid Jarrett, president and CEO of the B.C. Hotel Association, said the hotel industry is fine with short-term rental companies as long as there is an even playing field, taking into consideration the hotel industry pays employee benefits, commercial insurance and commercial taxes. 

"Our concern with Airbnb, to be frank, is although they have a business licence and address, the majority are commercial operators," said Jarrett on The Early Edition on Wednesday.

Fry's motion identifies host names with multiple listings, including a Bruce with 50 listings and a Rami who had 32 listings associated with that name when the motion was drafted.

But unlike hotels, Fry's motion says, these listings don't create substantial employment and can encroach on long-term rentals and housing availability.

Maximum stay violations

To rent out an Airbnb in Vancouver, hosts must get a short term rental licence from the city that permits rentals for less than 30 consecutive days at a time. If someone wants to rent a unit out for longer, they must apply for a long-term rental business licence and pay a separate fee.

Fry's indicates in his motion this rule is currently being violated by both Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) hosts.

"Recent data trends from both platforms show a number of the current short term rental stock in Vancouver is newly listed for a minimum 30-day stay," reads the motion.

The City of Vancouver introduced regulations around short term rentals in 2019 after they began wreaking havoc with housing for longer-term renters. (Chad Pawson/CBC)

Fry is calling on city staff to recirculate memos to all short and long term licence holders to remind them of the rules. According to the motion, there are 5,806 current short term rentals in the city. Under current city bylaws, a host renting a unit in a strata building must inform the strata they are doing so.

Stranger danger

Despite this, Fry's motion says some property and building managers have reported they cannot determine if illegal units are being rented because the city's open data licence portal redacts address information.

This can be particularly frustrating at a time when building residents are worried about strangers and virus transmission.

Fry says the motion requests staff to create a mechanism so strata, property and building managers can request specific address information. 

Staff is also being asked to report back on methods for inspection or implementation of safety and cleaning standards.

Jarrett said this is an area the hotel industry has been actively engaged since the pandemic.

"The hotel industry has spent an enormous amount of time working with the ministry, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, and WorkSafeBC to ensure that we have scalable best practices and protocols," said Jarrett, adding both the industry and consumers have "extremely serious concerns" about health and safety.

She noted while hotels, lodges, inns and motels can be inspected at anytime by WorkSafeBC, but Airbnb units are not subject to the same scrutiny.

Fry's motion was referred by council to the Standing Committee on Policy and Strategic Priorities on May 26. It was scheduled to be voted on at a committee meeting on June 2, but a decision has now been delayed until an upcoming city council meeting on June 10.

Tap here to listen to the complete interview with Nathan Rotman on The Early Edition.

With files from The Early Edition

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