British Columbia

Vancouver regulations on short-term rentals move to council vote

Vancouver city council will vote next week on regulations that would legalize some short-term rentals — only in principal residences — in a move similar to steps proposed by Toronto.

'Housing is for homes first,' says Mayor Gregor Robertson

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson outlined the city's next steps for regulating short-term rentals through companies like Airbnb. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Vancouver city council will vote next week on regulations that would legalize some short-term rentals — only in principal residences — in a move similar to steps proposed by Toronto.

Mayor Gregor Robertson announced the city's proposed regulations at a news conference Wednesday, saying they take a "balanced" approach that addresses the city's low rental vacancy rate while still allowing residents to make some extra income.

"Our bottom line continues to be that our housing is for homes first," the mayor said.

If approved, the regulations wouldn't come into effect until April 2018.

Under the proposal, which sticks closely to preliminary plans announced last year, homeowners and renters would only be allowed to list their primary residences on sites like Airbnb for a licensing fee of $49 each year.

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

Robertson estimated that 70 per cent of short-term listings in the city would still be allowed under the new rules. About 1,000 listings would be taken off the market, according to the city.

"Between this action on short-term rentals and the empty home tax … we expect to see some immediate relief," Robertson said.

Vancouver's annual empty home tax, which goes into effect this year, applies a levy of one per cent of a home's assessed value if the property is not being lived in on a long-term basis.

Vancouver had a rental vacancy rate of just 0.8 per cent last year. Meanwhile, the city said it recently found 5,927 units listed on short-term rental sites, up 10 per cent from June 2016.

'Vancouver's largest hotel'

Airbnb is the largest short-term rental platform in Vancouver, the mayor said. The city estimates about 90 per cent of short-term rental activity happens on Airbnb and Expedia.

"Short-term rentals now make up 30 per cent of Vancouver's accommodations for tourists," Robertson said. "Airbnb is effectively Vancouver's largest hotel."

The mayor applauded the American sharing economy giant for co-operating with staff over the last few months, something he said was not true of many other companies in the industry.

Meanwhile, executives at Airbnb said they are currently reviewing the city's proposal.

"We continue to recommend fair, easy-to-follow rules that support our responsible host community," public policy manager Alex Dagg said in a written statement.

Vancouver's new rules would require that anyone operating a short-term rental list the licence number in online advertisements. The city also wants platform operators like Airbnb to pay Vancouver up to three per cent in transaction fees, while also paying existing federal and provincial taxes.

Cities across the country have been struggling to deal with the surging popularity of short-term rentals amid an increasingly tight housing market. Last month, Toronto released recommendations for regulating the industry that closely resemble the Vancouver model.

Will rules protect low-income renters?

Speaking with CBC Radio's On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko, Karen Sawatzky, head of the city's Renter's Advisory Committee, said the proposed rules get some things right, but she has concerns about allowing people to list rooms within their homes for short-term stays.

She said that could hurt low-income people who can't afford to rent their own apartment or house but could afford to rent a room in a house.

"Young people can't afford to move out of their parents' basement," she said. "Shared housing is a very important housing resource."

She wants the city to keep track of how many of these rooms within homes become short-term rentals to see how that ultimately affects rental supply.

She also questions whether the $49 annual fee will be enough to cover the costs of enforcing the new rules.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast