Ottawa

City considers rules for Airbnb, short-term rentals in Ottawa

Ottawa city staff have been asked to report on whether Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms are changing neighbourhoods, and whether the city has the tools to respond.

Staff to report in the fall on whether zoning, bylaw can address concerns with short-term rentals

Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans says complaints about trash, noise and parking problems at an Airbnb listing prompted her to ask city staff to look at whether the city has enough power to respond to safety concerns at short-term rental units. 0:39

An Ottawa city councillor says complaints about trash, noise and parking problems at an Airbnb listing prompted her to ask city staff to look at whether the city has enough power to respond to safety concerns at short-term rental units.

Coun. Diane Deans said she's received complaints from a group of residents about an Airbnb listing in Hunt Club Park, and that it has required the combined efforts of bylaw enforcement and legal services to attempt to resolve the issues.

"For the residents, it's loud noises, people yelling at night, throwing beer bottles over the fence, throwing cigarette butts on the street," Deans said.

The Airbnb host is also accepting large groups into their basement, which raises questions about building code and fire safety, she said.

'Changes the nature of the neighbourhood'

"They were marketing to sports teams and large groups to come into a neighbourhood. Well, that really has impacts for the residents," Deans said.

"To have potentially a bus-load of people coming into a neighbourhood, it changes the nature of the neighbourhood."

Deans decided to present the motion to council because the issue is not isolated to any one neighbourhood or ward, she said. There are about 2,300 hosts in Ottawa, according to Airbnb.

Coun. Rick Chiarelli said he's received complaints in his ward from people worried their area was being transformed into a "neighbourhood of hotels."

City of Ottawa staff have been asked to report on whether Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms are changing neighbourhoods, and what the city can do about it. (John MacDougall/Getty Images)

"When students go away from student housing in the spring to return to the fall, there's a gap where people are trying to be opportunistic and turn individual residences into mini hotels, and this is a concern to people living in the community," Chiarelli told council Wednesday.

The motion directs city staff to report on whether existing bylaw and zoning rules can effectively deal with concerns about safety, parking, noise and land-use conflicts that come with the growing popularity of online short-term rentals.

'Neighbourhood nuisances'

Toronto and Vancouver are moving toward regulated short-term rentals. Both cities are planning to limit rentals to primary residences to keep people from buying housing stock to use as Airbnb income properties.

Airbnb said it doesn't have statistics on how many hosts in Ottawa are listing their primary residence on the site, but said the proportion is about 80 per cent in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Deans said she is not concerned with how Airbnb is affecting housing stock in Ottawa right now.

"Our issue is a little bit different. Our issue is the safety of the public and concern for the change that might be brought about in the neighbourhood by this use establishing," she said.

Toronto's Airbnb rules would use licensing to reduce "neighbourhood nuisances" from short-term rentals. The city could deny applications or remove problem operators from the city registry if there is criminal activity or a threat to public health and safety at a listing.

'Airbnb is committed to working with cities'

​In a statement, Airbnb's public policy manager, Alex Dagg, said the company looks forward to responding to the city's concerns about its platform.

"Airbnb is committed to working with cities across Canada, including Ottawa, to develop smart, easy-to-follow regulations that support home sharing," Dagg said.

In response to questions about the issues at the listing in Hunt Club Park, the company pointed to its recently-launched "neighbour tool," which allows people to contact Airbnb about problems with listings in their community.

If a resident uses it, they can track their complaint with a case number and Airbnb works with the host to resolve the issue. 

"The overwhelming majority of Airbnb hosts and guests are good neighbours and respectful travelers, so issues of any kind are incredibly rare, but when they happen, we work to make things right," Dagg said in the statement.

"Hosting is a big responsibility and those who repeatedly fail to meet our standards and expectations will be subject to suspension or removal."