Montreal cracking down on lock boxes affixed to public property

City councillors say lock boxes can be used to store keys for unauthorized Airbnbs or other short-term rentals.

City intends to send message to operators of unauthorized short-term rentals

The city has instructed blue collar workers to saw off any lock boxes like this one affixed to city property like bike stands. (CBC)

Montreal's city workers have been instructed to saw off any lock boxes affixed to city property such as bicycle stands or parking meters, in an effort to discourage unauthorized short-term rentals like Airbnb.

A lock box is a small container that often contains keys, and requires a four- or six-digit code to access.

Plateau-Mont-Royal Coun. Alex Norris says that there are thousands of short-term rentals that violate Montreal's bylaw about where they can operate in the city.

He says these unauthorized operators sometimes leave lock boxes with the keys inside affixed to public property, to throw off city inspectors.

"It makes it harder to associate the lock box with an individual address," Norris said.

Montreal city councillor Alex Norris says that thousands of rental units are being taken off the market for short-term rentals like Airbnb. (CBC)

The city took steps last summer to reduce the number of tourist rental properties downtown, restricting rentals associated with online services such as Airbnb to buildings along Ste-Catherine Street, roughly between Guy Street and Amherst Street.

Within this limited area downtown, rentals are not allowed within 150 metres of each other.

Norris says the influx of Airbnb and other services like it lead to a "loss of affordable housing units in central neighbourhoods" and inconvenience to neighbours.

"We estimate that thousands of rental units have been withdrawn from the market." he said.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante tweeted as much Monday, adding several people had shared pictures they had taken of lock boxes in their neighbourhoods.

Plante said the administration is in favour of "sharing" dwellings, but that this type of rental goes against provincial laws. In following tweets, she, too, said Airbnb-type short-term rentals take away from much needed housing in the city's tight rental market.

The city already has a policy that directs its workers to cut anything unofficial off public property.

"It's illegal to attach lock boxes, or anything, to public property," Norris said. "We already regularly remove rusty old bikes and other types of locks that are left on parking meters."

Norris says residents can report the presence of a lock box in order to have it removed by calling 311.

With files from CBC's Matt D'Amours