Nova Scotia

Short-term rentals in Halifax making it harder for locals to find housing, report finds

Short-term rentals fuelled by sites such as Airbnb in the Halifax region are negatively impacting people's ability to find affordable housing — particularly in downtown Halifax — a study by researchers at McGill University has found.

McGill study found there were 2,420 short-term rentals active in the municipality on Aug. 31, 2019

Lower Water Street in downtown Halifax on May 1, 2018. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Short-term rentals fuelled by sites such as Airbnb in the Halifax region are negatively impacting people's ability to find affordable housing — particularly in downtown Halifax — a study by researchers at McGill University has found.

Researcher David Wachsmuth told CBC's Maritime Noon on Tuesday there are neighbourhoods in central Halifax where more than two per cent of the housing is listed full time on Airbnb.

"That's housing that's been taken totally off the rental market," he said.

The study found there were 2,420 short-term rentals active in the municipality on Aug. 31, 2019. Wachsmuth said about a third of those listings are believed to be full-time operations.

"Those 700 or 800 units are having a major impact on people's ability to find an apartment to rent at a decent price in Halifax right now," Wachsmuth said.

He said that's a large number for a city Halifax's size.

The report found the rental vacancy rate in Halifax was 1.6 per cent.

Ideal vacancy rate 3%

According to a report from Royal Bank of Canada Economics released in September, an ideal vacancy rate would be three per cent.

"Notably, real rent generally declines when the vacancy rate climbs above three per cent," the report noted. 

"So housing policy that ultimately raises a market's vacancy rate to, say, something closer to four per cent has a good chance of generating meaningful rent relief."

The McGill study said that if commercial short-term rentals were converted back to long-term housing, the rental vacancy rate would increase to 2.8 per cent in the short term.

Short-term rental survey

The provincial and municipal governments are looking to regulate short-term rentals, possibly in 2020.

The Halifax Regional Municipality and the province have surveys available on short-term rentals. The deadline for the provincial survey is Nov. 20 and the deadline for the Halifax survey is 10 days later.

Wachsmuth said the province should consider limiting short-term rentals to primary residences.

"In other words, if this is home sharing, you've got a spare bedroom or you're out of town for the whole weekend, you should be able to do what you want with your home including rent it to somebody whose visiting," Wachsmuth said.

"But we should be really sceptical about commercial operators who want to take entire apartments, entire homes and convert them into effectively full-time hotels because that's activity that's really coming at a cost to local residents."

He said in neighbourhoods that are attractive to tourists, locals will have an increasingly harder time finding long-term housing "because tourists are basically outbidding local residents" through short-term rentals.

Neighbourhood group speaks up

Bill Stewart, a spokesperson for the group Neighbours Speak Up, a group that formed out of concerns over Airbnbs in Halifax's north end, told CBC's Mainstreet on Tuesday that one thing that stood out to him about the McGill study was that more than 40 per cent of the listings are properties where an owner owns multiple properties.

"We see the major irritant in this situation being in the kind of commercial short-term rental, where the owner doesn't reside in it and has another property and so on," Stewart said.

"We think these are commercial businesses and have no place in a residential area."

Neighbours Speak Up is holding a presentation on short-term rentals with Wachsmuth at the Halifax Central Library on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

With files from CBC's Maritime Noon and Mainstreet

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