Airbnb calls on Calgary to treat industry as 'casual' income

As Calgary studies possibly regulating Airbnb, the business says it wants councillors to think of the short-term rental service as casual, extra income for families.

City council voted this week to study regulating the short-term rental market

As the home-sharing service Airbnb continues to grow in Calgary, council will studying regulating the short-term rental business. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

As Calgary studies possibly regulating Airbnb, a spokesperson for the company says she wants councillors to think of the short-term rental service as casual, extra income for families.

The "home-sharing" business, which provides an online platform for homeowners to advertise renting their home or a spare room, has come under fire for allegedly taking affordable housing off the market and not contributing enough taxes. Most recently, Toronto has taken steps to limit short-term rentals.

Calgary City Council voted Monday to study the industry and make recommendations for possible regulations.

Airbnb Canada wants to work with the city during its study, the company's public policy manager, Alexandra Dagg, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

"Home-sharing itself is not new, but because of the internet ... it's grown," Dagg said.

"It's like with anything, new technology, cities have to keep up and take a look at it."

Alexandra Dagg is Airbnb Canada's public policy manager. (CBC)

A typical Airbnb host in Calgary rents for 43 nights a year, bringing in just under $4,000, she said, which is more than what the described typical Canadian host brings in. 

In a submission to the federal government, Airbnb said a typical host in Canada rents for 37 nights a year to earn $3,200 annually.

In the past 12 months, about 125,000 visitors to Calgary rented from the city's approximately 2,600 hosts, she said.

Dagg said these numbers point to "pretty casual activity."

'Even playing field'

Coun. Ward Sutherland, who brought the regulation motion forward, has told CBC News  he wanted to create "an even playing field" between hotels, lodging houses and short-term rentals.

He received multiple complaints about Airbnbs in his northwest ward — for example, about loud noises or using lawns as parking lots, he said at the time.

After doing some research, he found the rental properties fell outside existing bylaws — and the city didn't even have the right to inspect them. His motion will have city officials studying business licences, land use and safety oversight.

'Getting the free ride'

Short-term rentals should be contributing to the local tourism industry's marketing efforts, as well, says George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Industries.

"It takes big marketing dollars, and the hotels and the organized businesses that are in tourism are working hard to promote through Travel Alberta and Tourism Calgary," Brookman, who's been involved in both agencies, told the Calgary Eyeopener

"These Airbnb folks are getting the free ride out of all that advertising, all that marketing that's being done to bring tourists here."

Private, short-term rentals are not subject to the four per cent provincial tourism levy on Alberta hotel stays.

Brookman also notes hotels undergo health and safety inspections, currently not mandated by law for short-term rentals such as with Airbnb.

George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Industries, has been involved with tourism in Alberta for years. (CBC)

In response to Airbnb's growing popularity with tourists, two southern Alberta towns with low vacancy rates, Banff and Canmore, are cracking down on what they call illegal short-term rentals.

The Airbnb spokesperson said she hopes her company will be part of the conversation around modernizing regulations in Calgary.

"Sometimes communities do it in... a little bit of a head-in-the-sand kind of thing," Dagg said.

"And not actually understanding the real value that home-sharing can provide to families juggling expensive living costs — and this has been a great opportunity for a lot of people to share extra space in their home."

Recommendations on regulating the industry in Calgary are expected by the end of 2018.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener