Fildebrandt Airbnb loophole closed by all-party committee

From now on, Alberta politicians who rent out their taxpayer-subsidized apartments on Airbnb will be violating the rules of the legislative assembly, a committee determined Thursday.

MLAs can no longer double dip by renting out taxpayer-subsidized homes

Derek Fildebrandt resigned from the UCP last month after he rented out his taxpayer-subsidized apartment on Airbnb. (Bill Graveland/Canadian Press)

From now on, Alberta MLAs who rent out their taxpayer-subsidized apartments on Airbnb will be violating the rules of the legislative assembly, a committee determined Thursday. 

The all-party members' services committee voted unanimously to prohibit MLAs from double-dipping by putting their taxpayer-subsidized apartments on commercial renting services.

Can't occur again

NDP MLA Estefania Cortes-Vargas, deputy chair of the committee, said even though the previous guidelines didn't prohibit double-dipping, that didn't mean it was allowed.

"What we did today was make it clear that nothing like this can occur again," she said.

The motion includes banning third-party services that would rent out an MLA's home for a "fee as a vacation rental or any other type of short-term accommodation."

Alberta Party leader Greg Clark asked the committee to address the issue after it became public that former United Conservative Party (UCP) MLA Derek Fildebrandt had rented out his Edmonton condo on the popular vacation sharing site Airbnb while collecting a housing allowance.

Clark wanted the motion to include more specific detail to further tighten the loopholes.

For example, he said, the rules could have been written to prevent MLAs already collecting housing allowances from having visitors cover utilities or condo fees instead of paying rent.

The motion that did pass "isn't perfect," he said, "but we got there.

After it became public MLA Derek Fildebrandt rented his taxpayer subsidized condo on Airbnb, Clark asked the committee to tighten the rules. (cbc)

"The bottom line is after today, no MLA can do what Derek Fildebrandt did," Clark said.

"In my wildest dreams, I never thought something like this would happen," he added

Nathan Cooper, the interim UCP leader who introduced the motion, said the "vast majority of members always want to do the right thing."

Cooper said it's important to provide written assurances to Albertans about how members will respond in future. 

In urging the committee not to delay a decision, Calgary-Hays UCP MLA Ric McIver said the committee owed it to the public to take action.

"Let's set the public's mind at ease, or at least let the public know that we are aware of their concerns," McIver said.

A sub-committee will now look at other issues related to the use of the MLA housing allowance, including what should happen to income generated when an MLA sells a home that he or she purchased while collecting a housing allowance.

Fildebrandt sublet his downtown Edmonton apartment on Airbnb, describing the suite as "modernly furnished and very well-kept."

He was charging between $50 and $83 a night for the apartment. He rented out the apartment several times between January and March, accumulating eight reviews of his apartment.

At that same time, he claimed $7,720 in accommodation allowance.

Fildebrandt paid back the money he made on the rental, once the posting became public.