British Columbia

'A level playing field': Vancouver holds public hearing on Airbnb

It's a chance for Vancouver residents to voice their opinions on proposed regulations council came up with earlier this year.

Short-term rental giant would be open to a 'hotel tax' on hosts, similar to what's in place in Quebec

Vancouver is proposing regulations for Airbnb and other short-term rentals. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Vancouverites had a chance to give their opinions on short-term rentals legislation proposed by the city at a public hearing Tuesday evening. 

Under the proposal, which was announced in the summer, homeowners and renters would only be allowed to list their primary residences on sites like Airbnb for a licensing fee of $49 each year, plus a one-time application fee of $54.

Vancouver residents would not be permitted to apply for licences to list secondary suites such as basement apartments or laneway homes, or second homes.

More than 90 speakers were signed up to address council on Tuesday, and the hearing had to be adjourned to continue on Thursday.

Ty Speer of Tourism Vancouver spoke in support of the proposed regulations.

"In particular, [I] would commend staff on striking a balance between the need to protect opportunities for our visitors to have choice in what they want to use in terms of where they stay, while also respecting the need to protect housing," he said.

He added that he'd like to see quick action on taxing short-term rentals like hotels.

Clair Oates, who owns Clair's Bed & Breakfast of Ladner, travelled all the way from Delta to express her concerns about Airbnb's growing popularity.

"I'd just like them to be on a level playing field. I'd like them to be licensed. I'd like them to be calculating GST and hotel tax should it be necessary," she told CBC News outside the hearing

'A thoughtful job'

In an interview earlier on Tuesday, Airbnb's Canadian public policy head Alex Dagg was generally complimentary of Vancouver's approach.

"We think that the City of Vancouver has done a thoughtful job looking at a complicated issue, [but] we have some concerns about it and we'll be communicating those," she said. 

One of those concerns is over not allowing secondary suites to be rented out. 

"We understand the intent of that in a city such as Vancouver," she said. 

"The issue we have is making sure you define that in a way that doesn't hurt or have unintended consequences for those in Vancouver who are home sharing, and want to home share, so they can afford to stay in their homes."

Vancouver currently has no regulations for short-term rentals, but rentals for less than 30 days are illegal without a hotel or bed and breakfast licence. In April, the city estimated there were around 6,000 online units currently in operation, mostly in the northern half of Vancouver.

The city estimated that 70 per cent of short-term listings in the city would still be allowed under the new rules, but about 1,000 listings would be taken off the market.

A slide by the City of Vancouver, presented in council, shows where short-term rental units are located throughout the municipality. (City of Vancouver)

Quebec-style hotel tax? 

The hearing comes at the same time a Vancouver strata lawyer says she is preparing a class action lawsuit against Airbnb, alleging the company is "profiting from the unauthorized use of other people's property."

Dagg said that ultimately it's up to strata boards "to make their own rules about how they want to govern in their own buildings."

Dagg also said Airbnb would be on board with a hotel tax imposed on users, and in a letter to the provincial government, they said they would support such a change.

​In Quebec, the province collects a 3.5 per cent tax from hosts to fund the province's 22 regional tourism offices — but to date, the B.C. government has not said whether it would implement such a tax. 

"We'd like to be able to collect and remit this tax provincewide on our platform like what we're doing in the province of Quebec already," she said. 

With files from Brenna Rose, Megan Batchelor and Bethany Lindsay