British Columbia

1 year into regulations, Vancouver considers 3,066 homes on Airbnb a success story

Since Vancouver began enforcing its short-term rental rules in September, the number of listings in the city has decreased by about 40 per cent from its peak. 
This home at 2854 West 38th Avenue had been under investigation by the City of Vancouver for violating rules for short-term rentals. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Last year, a small Vancouver home at 2854 West 38th Avenue was sold for $2.8 million.

Ever since, the next-door neighbour has noticed a few changes at the 88-year-old property, with its barren lawn, overstuffed mailbox and key deposit box on the front door.  

"There's nobody living in the house, so it's being used as an Airbnb," Neela Sunga said. 

"This time of year they're coming in intermittently, but we're quite concerned about summertime when it'll be obviously very busy … We don't even know who we would complain to if there was an issue."

The property was one of 3,066 listed on Airbnb as an "entire home" in Vancouver on April 10. That accounts for approximately one per cent of all private dwellings in the municipality, according to a CBC News analysis of listings. 

After an inquiry from CBC News, the listing was removed — along with another property from the same host, a mansion in the Shaughnessy neighbourhood that sold for $12.6 million in 2017.

Kathryn Holm, Vancouver's chief licensing inspector, says the city's short-term rental regulations that were introduced just over a year ago to try to improve the city's vacancy rates are working "very well." 

However, the numbers can tell two different stories. 

A property at 3778 Hudson Street is also under investigation by the City of Vancouver for violating short-term rental laws, and was removed from Airbnb days after CBC News inquired about its status. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

Multi-hosts and total listings down

Vancouver requires all short-term rental hosts to get a business licence, and they can only post a property if it's their primary residence.

In theory, it means entire homes can only be available if the regular residents are temporarily away. 

And since the city began enforcing the rules in September, the number of listings in Vancouver has decreased by about 40 per cent from its peak

According to a previous analysis from AirDNA, a company that looks at Airbnb listings data, the total number of nights available to book properties has gone down by about half from its peak. 

In addition, 32 per cent of listings are managed by a "host" with multiple properties in Vancouver, but it's the lowest proportion of any of the 17 Canadian municipalities measured by CBC. 

"It does seem like it's moving in the right direction," said Holm. 

Airbnb Canada spokesperson Alex Dagg said it shows the company's partnership with Vancouver, which includes quarterly data sharing, is working. 

"I think the city's really smart about housing and trying to make progress with their bylaw," she said. 

"There's a learning curve for our host community. I think there's a bit of saying, 'Wow, this is serious.'" 

Long time to prosecute

But there is plenty Airbnb critics can point to as evidence the platform is still having an adverse effect on the city's vacancy rates.  

Approximately one of every 40 condos downtown is posted on Airbnb. There are nearly 100 Vancouver mansions (advertising room for at least 10 people) on the site.     

Many of them are likely complying with all of the city's rules. But when asked about eight specific properties that seemed at first blush to be skirting the rules, the City of Vancouver said seven of them were under investigation. 

"The city has to be more proactive and the city has to get Airbnb on board with policing the platform," said Rohana Rezel, a housing advocate who has tracked listings. 

He argues that the city could force Airbnb to take a greater responsibility for the postings on its site, and the city could move faster when it receives complaints about a specific property.

Airbnb's Alex Dagg said it's the city's obligation to enforce the rules, but its agreement with Airbnb provides the necessary tools.

Holm said the city wants to gather plenty of evidence before taking action against people suspected to be violating the law. 

"With the most egregious operators, it takes time to escalate the file through the court system," she said.

"But we are actively pursuing enforcement files on those cases that were identified."

As for Sunga? While she'll be happy if the property next door stays off Airbnb for good, she says the city could react faster. 

"I appreciate that it's a hard one for the city to follow up on. But it's a big problem in a city where there's zero vacancy ... there should not be a hotel next door to me." 

METHODOLOGY: How did CBC analyze neighbourhoods and Airbnb listings?

CBC monitored and collected the price, number of reviews, star rating and geolocation of all listings advertising an entire home or suite that appeared on Airbnb's website on April 10, 2019 for 17 Canadian towns and cities. A minority of listings might be duplicates of the same property created by the same host as a marketing strategy.

For six major cities, including Vancouver, a neighbourhood breakdown was also conducted. Each of the six cities provided CBC with their custom "Neighbourhood Profile" and current neighbourhood boundaries.

CBC then used the total number of private dwellings, which include both occupied and unoccupied homes, to estimate the percentage of homes listed on Airbnb in each neighbourhood. In Vancouver, these numbers came from the 2016 census.


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