Nova Scotia

More than 3,700 homes lost to short-term rentals across the province, Halifax group finds

A community group based in Halifax released data on Tuesday that shows 3,792 "entire homes" are listed as short-term vacation rentals across the province. They say that's contributing to the housing crisis and call for government action.

Support workers say housing crisis is worsened by rise of holiday rentals

Members of the group Neighbours Speak Up are shown in North End Halifax. The group is concerned about the growing number of short-term vacation rentals in Halifax and beyond. (Submitted by Bill Stewart)

More than 3,700 homes in Nova Scotia aren't available to families seeking permanent housing because they are listed as short-term vacation rentals, according to research by a Halifax community group.

Neighbours Speak Up compiled data from the Government of Nova Scotia's short-term accommodations registry — as well as short-term rental data analytics website AirDNA, which gathers numbers from travel websites VRBO and Airbnb — and found there are 3,792 such rentals in the province listed as an "entire home." 

"The important fact here is these are secondary homes that could be used for housing, given our present situation," said Bill Stewart, spokesperson for Neighbours Speak Up. "[They] have been used for short-term purposes. And we think even a portion of those would help many people deal with the housing situation."

South Shore housing advocate Kristi Tibbo says she sees the "profound impact" of the relatively new vacation rental sector in communities like Lunenburg, Chester and Mahone Bay.

"This housing stock is being taken away from local families [who want] to purchase homes that they would like to stay in and grow their family. The pricing for one is a lot of times unattainable," said Tibbo, an intensive case manager with the South Shore Open Doors Association. 

At issue is housing that's been taken off the local market because owners can collect higher prices from vacationers.

"Then we're also seeing a rental hike, which means of course other independent landlords are going to be seeing [higher] prices are available and that people are grabbing them, so you're seeing other landlords wanting to also increase their rents.

"It is having traumatic effects on families, disrupting the community, impacting I would say all factors of health, mental health, physical health."

Kristi Tibbo, a case manager with the South Shore Open Doors Association, says short-term vacation rental units are sometimes available in the off-season, but only on six-month leases. (Submitted by Kristi Tibbo)

Back in the provincial capital, Halifax Regional Municipality now has a vacancy rate of one per cent, and has more than 2,000 short-term rentals, including 1,630 "entire homes," around half of which have between two and five bedrooms, according to Neighbours Speak Up.

That's more than doubled in recent years. A 2019 report from the Urban Politics and Governance research group at McGill University noted there were 740 entire home short-term rentals in Halifax. 

Airbnb response

In an email, Airbnb disputed those findings.

"The average N.S. entire home on Airbnb was only hosted approximately 30 nights over a one-year period – suggesting that the typical Airbnb Host is sharing their home only occasionally," said Airbnb spokesperson Matt McNama. 

McNama also mentioned the benefits of short-term rentals. 

"Home sharing benefits both the hosts who earn additional income, and the community that sees an influx of tourism from guests that spend more than $200 a day during their stay, according to a recent survey, spending that supports businesses in the community like restaurants, retail and attractions."

In April, Tourism Minister Pat Dunn introduced an amendment to the Tourist Accommodation Registration Act that would end exemptions and require all short-term rentals to be registered. 

At the time, Dunn said the government's lack of accurate data about the number and location of short-term rentals has been a source of frustration for municipalities, some of which are attempting to regulate them through zoning and planning bylaws.

But more than six months later, regulations have not yet been developed and the act hasn't become law. According to the provincial Department of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage, officials are working to bring the amendments into force and update regulations.

"The province is approaching short-term rentals in a way that considers the current housing crisis and the need to support tourism growth and recovery," said department spokesperson Chad Lucas in a statement. "Amendments made to legislation last spring (Bill 154) will ensure that the Tourist Accommodations Registry will provide the data needed to support tourism planning, while giving municipalities the information they need to enforce their by-laws to regulate short-term rentals."

Neighbours Speak Up says this delay is hindering progress. 

"And in the meantime, municipalities are helpless to really move much further down the road to addressing this problem," Stewart said. "I really want to see the government bring in their regulations and proclaim the Act as soon as possible."

Stewart said though the government is focused on building more housing, it should also be looking at the existing housing stock. 

"[Some of these homes] could really house families of two to five or more, and there's also a substantial number of one-bedroom homes that could be used, so I think you can see that there's really some potential here," Stewart said. "With the implementation of regulations, we can actually free up some homes here for people."

Safety concerns

Laura Dobson has lived on Braeside Court in Dartmouth for close to 30 years, but has recently watched short-term rentals pop up in her area. On the Airbnb website there are two listings shown on or near her street. 

A man was found dead inside this home on Braeside Court in Dartmouth in November 2021. (Nicola Seguin/CBC)

Last fall, a man was shot and killed in one of the Airbnbs on her cul-de-sac. 

Dobson said she felt "a combination of furious and frightened" when she found out. 

"[This neighbourhood] has been a happy place. Now, it's a jittery place," she said. "What we have here is a residential street with residential zoning being used for commercial use with no supervision, no front desk. It's not even as safe as living next to a hotel because there is no night watchman, there's nothing."

Dobson said the anonymous nature of Airbnbs makes her nervous, as well as the fact that rentals can be owned by a company or by people who live outside the city. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola Seguin is a TV, radio, and online journalist with CBC Nova Scotia, based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax). If you have a story idea, email her at nicola.seguin@cbc.ca or find her on twitter @nicseg95.

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