Nova Scotia

Halifax gets first look at proposed regulations for Airbnbs

Staff have presented Halifax regional council with a report on suggested changes to various planning strategies and land-use bylaws to streamline the city's approach to short-term rentals.

Council pushes decision on bylaw changes to this spring

A finger points at the Airbnb app available for download on a tablet.
Halifax staff have presented regional council with suggested changes to land-use bylaws to better regulate short-term rentals like Airbnbs. (John MacDougall/Getty Images)

Halifax councillors are applauding municipal changes to better regulate short-term rentals like Airbnbs, but some are calling for more details before moving forward.

On Tuesday, staff presented Halifax regional council with a report on suggested changes to various planning strategies and land-use bylaws to streamline the city's approach to the issue.

"The housing crisis is acute, you just have to go by … the tents in the parks," Coun. Waye Mason said during council.

"This is a way to ensure that the residential [stock] stays available for rent for people who live here." 

Council directed staff in September 2020 to look into making specific bylaw changes.

The new rules would apply to the entire municipality, and allow short-term rentals in residential zones only if they are the hosts' primary residence. In commercial and mixed-use zones where there are already hotels, rentals could go ahead without this rule.

The report used data from analytics website AirDNA that showed the Halifax short-term rental market "remains dominated by entire dwelling unit listings," which accounted for 81 per cent of the city's roughly 2,000 listings as of August. Of the entire dwellings, 509 were categorized as a house, bungalow, or townhouse, while 677 were apartment, condo, or loft.

Mason said the hope is these changes would cut down on so-called ghost hotels in residential areas where property owners who live elsewhere buy up apartments, evict tenants and turn the building into only short-term rentals. 

Staff estimated about 400 listings would need to start having the owner live in the property to conform to the new rules, but did not know how many overall would actually convert back to the market as long-term rentals again, or be sold. 

Halifax Coun. Shawn Cleary stands in a hallway at city hall while being interviewed.
Shawn Cleary is the municipal councillor for District 9 Halifax West Armdale. (CBC)

Coun. Shawn Cleary said he couldn't support taking the first step and sending the changes to a public hearing through a "leap of faith" without getting more data.

He asked that the matter be deferred to after April 1, 2023, and have staff come back with more on how many short-term rentals would become "illegal or non-compliant" under the changes, and how many units would convert to long-term rentals based on other cities that have taken a similar approach. 

"Even if you're off by 20 per cent, a good, solid try is better than, 'Ah, we don't know,'" Cleary said. "I ... can't go forward with making changes we don't know the impact of."

A map shows the location of short-term rentals in the Halifax area through red dots. Most are clustered in the regional centre of the city, with some appearing along the Eastern Shore.
The red dots on this map show the location of short-term rentals in HRM as of October 2022. The grey areas represent commercial zones where these rentals would be allowed without having an owner primarily live there. (Halifax Regional Municipality)

Cleary also said he's heard complaints from the tourism industry that it was not properly consulted and deserves more attention because short-term rentals made up roughly 20 per cent of Halifax room stays in August.

But Mason and Coun. Sam Austin were among those who pushed to go forward.

"The situation … out there on housing is more urgent than this," Austin said.

Other councillors questioned whether it was realistic, or even possible, for staff to gather real estimates of how many listings would convert back to the market.

Coun. Pamela Lovelace said she didn't want to waste staff's time to go through thousands of online listings searching for answers, and they had enough to keep the process moving.

"All we're doing is just kicking a can down the road to kick a can down the road, and hope that maybe we get a little bit more," Lovelace said.

Mayor Mike Savage sided with Cleary, and said the tourism industry deserved more time to look at the bylaw changes.

Savage also said they still have time because the mandatory provincial registry for short-term rentals won't come into effect until April 2023.

"A little bit more effort on this is not necessarily a bad thing. I don't think it slows the process down," Savage said.

Council interested in better enforcement

Beside Cleary's asks, council approved requests for staff reports on allowing short-term rentals and secondary units like backyard suites on the same lot as a residents' primary home, what a "proactive enforcement approach" to short-term rentals would look like, and funding options to carry that out.

The new rules would bring in a consistent definition for short-term rentals as a dwelling unit (or part of one) used mainly for the reception of the travelling or vacationing public, and is provided as temporary accommodation for a period of 28 days or less. 

It would have the term "short-term bedroom rental" replace and standardize the approach to bed and breakfasts, and include lodging homes or renting a spare room.

Cleary's motion to defer the issue passed, and will come back to council in the spring.


Haley Ryan


Haley Ryan is the municipal affairs reporter for CBC covering mainland Nova Scotia. Got a story idea? Send an email to, or reach out on Twitter @hkryan17.

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