North

Yellowknife's hotel operators push for tougher rules for short-term rentals

Short-term rental units more than doubled in the last year in Yellowknife and licensed want stricter rules for unregulated commercial enterprises.

City of Yellowknife works toward regulation of short-term rentals like Airbnbs

Commercial enterprises are operating under the guise of the sharing economy, hotelier Joey Cruz told Yellowknife city councillors on Monday. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Hotel and licensed bed and breakfast operators in Yellowknife say Airbnb hosts and other short-term rentals have an unfair advantage over regulated accommodations. 

Hoteliers like Joey Cruz, president of the Yellowknife Hotels Association, told councillors at a public hearing yesterday that some Airbnb hosts are running commercial enterprises under the guise of home sharing. 

"Someone has taken it and turned it into a commercial platform, to market a commercial enterprise," he said. "There's a small matter of scale here."

NWT Tourism CEO Cathie Bolstad said there is room in the tourism market for short-term rentals, but that city regulations must distinguish commercial and home-based business.

Short-term listings on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway grew by 65 per cent since January 2018, said Bolstad, making up 20 per cent of tourist accommodations in the city.

Bolstad says she wants inspections, and for regulations to force platforms to delist properties that aren't licensed. 

NWT Tourism CEO Cathie Bolstad says regulations are critical to ensuring tourists have positive experiences when they visit and to level the playing field for hotels who made investments to expand. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Hotels have stake in Airbnb regulations

The Hotel Association of Canada wrote to the city with the regulatory framework it created to guide Canadian regulators on short-term rentals. It refers to a study from McGill University which states that in Canada, entire home rentals in 2017 accounted for 70 per cent of rentals made on Airbnb.

Explorer Hotel chief operating officer Ed Romanowski wants those listings recognized as commercial enterprises.

In submissions to council, he wrote that some businesses are buying residential property and converting them into commercial properties, without being subject to zoning amendments.

Licensed commercial properties are also paying more than double the residential tax rate, writes Romanowski. 

Bed and breakfast owner 'resentful' toward city over lack of regulation

Brent Rylott is the only Airbnb host who attended the public hearing. He rents out a basement, which is part of his primary residence and a flexible space for his family to use.

He said properties like his offer a different service than what is offered by licensed B&B owners, and that he favours a tourism tax on properties like his. 

Waiting for the city to regulate other operators has come at a personal cost, said B&B owner Faith Embleton. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

Faith Embleton has owned and operated a bed and breakfast in downtown Yellowknife since 1999. Airbnb hosts can afford to operate at a lower cost because they don't have to comply with the same regulations that apply to her business, she said.

"My business has declined considerably. I am really resentful to the city council that did nothing about it," she said.

"Two hundred and fifty plus people in this city did the same as me and didn't have to pay a licence. Where is the fairness in that?"

Robert Warburton, who owns and operates several short-term rentals for use for workers and crew contractors coming into the city to work, wants even lighter regulations. 

The profit margins for property owners are slim in expensive jurisdictions like Yellowknife, he said, using the example of a rental unit which narrowly breaks even. 

Warburton said short-term rentals are wrongly blamed for lower vacancy rates and inflated housing prices. 

In a letter to council, Lois Little from the Council of Canadians raised concerns that the unregulated market would deplete Yellowknife's already limited stock of affordable housing.

Proposed regulations will allow city to regulate short-term rentals

A proposed city amendment will change the definition of bed and breakfast and replace it with the definition of short term rental-accommodation as a "business of providing temporary accommodation for compensation in a dwelling unit or portion of a dwelling unit for 30 consecutive days or less."

The change of definition will allow the city to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb.

It would require a person to post their business license number on any marketing or face a $1,000 fine. 

City administration will summarize the public hearing and present options for council to consider. It will send three bylaws: zoning, business license and fees and charges bylaw, for second reading all at the same time. 

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story stated Robert Warburton said short-term regulations are blamed for lower vacancy rates and inflated housing prices. He said short-term rentals are wrongly blamed for those.
    Jan 14, 2020 11:55 AM CT

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