London

London city hall hears from residents opposed to proposal to crack down on Airbnb amid housing crisis

Dozens of people addressed a city hall committee Tuesday that's looking at proposals to impose more stringent restrictions on Airbnb and other online home rental services in London, Ont., as part of a growing effort to regulate home sharing in the city. 

Report proposes licensing, fees, taxes and permissions to regulate house sharing

A city hall committee will examine a proposal to regulate short-term rentals in London, Ont., that a report says are aggravating the city's current housing crisis and have led to 'destructive headline-grabbing parties.' (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Dozens of people addressed a city hall committee Tuesday that's looking at proposals to impose more stringent restrictions on Airbnb and other online home rental services in London, Ont. — with options including fees, taxes and licensing — as part of a growing effort to regulate home sharing in the city. 

The proposals aim to prevent tenants and condo owners from illegally renting their homes for a few days at a time to short-term workers or tourists without the knowledge of their landlords or condo boards, a trend a city hall report says is only aggravating the housing crisis because short-term rentals are more lucrative than long-term ones. 

Online hosts would be required to obtain a licence for the property where the short-term rental takes place in order to prevent what the report calls "destructive, headline-grabbing parties," such as the high-profile blowout in 2019 that resulted in nine arrests and $80,000 worth of damage to a London home. 

Licensing would require applicants to prove the property is their home in order to prevent commercial operators from ducking regulations aimed at hotels and motels, the recommendations said. It would also allow bylaw officers to ensure the property is up to code. 

The city also proposes a four per cent accommodation tax, which would be paid once a year by hosts upon renewal of a property owner's short-term rental licence. 

Many of the speakers at Tuesday's committee meeting took exception with the proposal to limit short-term rentals to a homeowner's primary residence. 

"I believe that restricting it to Airbnb hosts as their primary residence is a big mistake for the City of London," said Danielle Denemme, speaking to the committee via Zoom.

Not all hosts who run short-term rentals do this because they want extra money. They do it because they need to.- David Ferrera, London, Ont.

Denemme said she has been offering short-term rentals for the past two years and has hosted a wide array of guests, from tourists, to new immigrants, mature students and surrogate mothers. 

She said all of them are looking for the flexibility short-term rentals offer in order to add to the richness of city life. 

"It would really affect London as a whole," she said. 

"Not all hosts who run short-term rentals do this because they want extra money. They do it because they need to," said David Ferrera, who runs a short-term rental apartment out of his London, Ont., duplex. 

Ferrera said he lost his job in 2020 and now depends on money generated from renting out part of his home.

"I'm relying on the income to meet my obligations until I can find new employment."

Jen Romnes, who is a conventional landlord on top of being a short-term landlord, said if the city truly wanted to help the housing crisis, it should open up derelict homes that she described as "rotting in place." 

"Why don't you go after them instead of my Airbnb?" she said. 

32% of city short-term rentals are vacant: report

A recent report from the city (Page 142) estimates approximately 650 short-term rentals are operating in London as of March 2022, 90 of which are facilitated by Airbnb.

The report said the average occupancy rate of the short-term rentals is 68 per cent. By comparison, the city's apartment vacancy rate is about 1.8 per cent, according to the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, with a median monthly rent of $1,120 across the fleet of 51,431 long-term rental units. 

Online short-term rentals, meanwhile, charge an average of $121 a day, which the city hall report said works out to a median monthly revenue of $1,213.

Many short-term rentals in London are concentrated in some of the most sought-after neighbourhoods, including Old North, Old East and Wortley Village, and close to Western University.

A study published in 2020 by the Canadian Journal of Urban Research suggests half of all Airbnb revenue is generated by commercial operators who manage multiple listings, rather than local homeowners as the company suggests. In some cases, the study said, some homes are rented out so often, they're unlikely to house an actual permanent resident. 

"Airbnb is committed to working with the City of London to develop smart and sensible regulations," Matt McNama, a spokesperson for Airbnb, wrote Tuesday in an email to CBC News.

"As the economy gets back on track, it's also important to consider the vital impact Airbnb guests have on our communities, including an influx of support for small businesses still reeling after two years of pandemic restrictions. Restricting short-term rentals restrict visitors, at a moment when London should embrace more visitors to the city, not fewer."

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