As Calgary looks to crack down on multiple Airbnb listings, data shows it's at the low end across Canada

As Calgary considers licensing fees that could apply to people who list multiple properties for short-term rent through services like Airbnb, an analysis of the popular website's listings shows most people who use the service in this city are still advertising only a single home.

Analysis finds 36% of listings belong to a 'multi-lister,' one of the lowest rates among major cities

Airbnb is facing the prospect of new regulations in a variety of municipalities, including Calgary. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

As Calgary considers licensing fees that could apply to people who list multiple properties for short-term rent through services like Airbnb, an analysis of the popular website's listings shows most people who use the service in this city are still advertising only a single home.

Of 1,958 Airbnb listings for entire apartments, condos or houses in Calgary on a sample day last month, 708 were managed by a user who had multiple listings.

  • Scroll down for an interactive map of Airbnb listings by community

That's a rate of 36 per cent — putting Calgary at the low end for multiple listers across the country, according to a CBC News tally of 32,000 listings that appeared on the popular website in 17 Canadian municipalities.

The only city studied that had a lower rate of multi-listers than Calgary was Vancouver — where new regulations on services like Airbnb took effect last year.

The concern in many Canadian cities is over the large-scale commercialization of a service that was initially billed as "home sharing" and what impact that has on community character and housing supply. Municipal governments are trying to delineate the point at which short-term rentals go from a bit of side income to a professional business operation.

It's a topic cities across the world have been grappling with, too, as services like Airbnb have proliferated — often with added pressure from a frustrated hotel industry that sees itself as playing by a more stringent set of rules and regulations.

"What started as true home sharing has expanded into a growing trend: people are using these platforms to become commercial operators," Peggy Athans, executive director of the Calgary Hotel Association, told members of city council in December. 

Peggy Athans, executive director of the Calgary Hotel Association, speaks to members of city council during a committee meeting in December 2018. (City of Calgary)

"This means that multiple units and whole homes are being rented out on a consistent basis. Effectively, these operators are running illegal hotels within residential housing. It's important to consider the effect this activity has on communities in Calgary."

Her comments came during a committee meeting in which councillors considered a new system for licensing short-term rentals in Calgary.

No decisions have yet been made, but councillors directed city staff to draft a proposal for a "tiered" system of licensing that differentiates between casual, mom-and-pop-style users of services like Airbnb and those who make a living at it or operate on a large, commercial scale.

The details are still being worked out, but the system could see a variety of different "requirements and conditions appropriate to scale and type of operation," according to a city report.

As part of those conditions, councillors discussed the possibility of charging licensing fees to people who list multiple properties for rent, or rent their property for more than a certain number of days per year.

City staff are due to report back with a detailed plan by September.

How Calgary compares with other cities

Nationwide, 44 per cent of Airbnb listings in the 17 municipalities studied belonged to a multi-lister, according to the CBC News analysis.

In some places, the majority of listings came from users who had multiple properties for rent, including Montreal (51 per cent), Gatineau (52 per cent), Charlottetown (57 per cent), Whistler (65 per cent) and Banff (76 per cent).

The analysis also found some multi-listers that used stock images to present themselves as ordinary people in their Airbnb profiles, when really they were run by corporations with dozens of properties for rent across multiple cities.

Nationwide, 22 cent of Airbnb listings analyzed by CBC News came from users who had at least five properties for rent.

That raises concerns about "removing housing stock and turning it into what we call 'ghost hotels,'" said Thorben Wieditz, a researcher with Fairbnb, a coalition of groups advocating for short-term rental regulations in Canada.

"There is a process of commercialization going on where fewer and fewer hosts control a larger and larger disproportionate share of the inventories in these cities," Wieditz said.

"And, unfortunately, it's those commercial operators — those multi-listing hosts — that generate the majority of the revenue for Airbnb and have sort of perverted the original intent of the company and the platform."

Thorben Wieditz, a researcher with Fairbnb, speaks with CBC News data journalist Valerie Ouellet about short-term rental accommodations. (CBC)

Wieditz said the effect is a decreased supply of affordable housing, inflated rents and a growing number of residential buildings being effectively used as commercial hotel operations despite never being zoned for that type of land use, which can be frustrating for people who live nearby.

"Everyone likes Airbnb when they're on vacation ... but no one likes to have a full-time Airbnb unit next door," he said.

Airbnb declined an interview but said in a statement that "in any city with an Airbnb presence, homes listed on our platform account for a tiny percentage of the total local housing supply."

The company said it supports cities' efforts to protect the supply of affordable housing.

It also said commercial hospitality businesses' use of its service fits within its mission of "ensuring our platform offers greater choice for our guests and helps all types of hosts succeed."

How did CBC analyze 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 Calgary, 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 Calgary, these numbers came from the 2018 civic census.

Click, tap or scroll on the interactive map below to explore the data by community:

Can't see the map? Click here for a version that should work with your mobile device.

Airbnb has consistently said that data gathered in this manner is unreliable and can have significant gaps because of the limited information available on its public web pages.

With files from data journalists Valerie Ouellet and Inayat Singh


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