Ottawa

Ottawa's 'draconian' Airbnb rules will hurt students, landlord says

An Ottawa landlord says the city's proposed short-term rental rules will inadvertently force students into signing longer, less affordable leases.

Proposed bylaw would restrict short-term rentals to primary residences

George Mota, a policy consultant and landlord, said the city's proposal would prevent him from offering students affordable eight-month leases to coincide with the school year.

An Ottawa landlord says the city's proposed short-term rental rules will inadvertently force students into signing longer, less affordable leases.

A city report published Wednesday recommends restricting short-term rentals such as Airbnb to primary residences, limiting hosts to listing a single property and effectively banning the rental of investment properties.

George Mota, a policy consultant and landlord, said he was planning to rent out part of a duplex he owns in the city's Meadowlands neighbourhood to students on eight-month leases, matching the school term.

The City of Ottawa needs to take a more careful look here at what they're doing, and what the unintended consequences are going to be.- Alex Dagg, Airbnb Canada

But Mota said the proposed rules would force him into a corner when it comes to finding renters for the other four months.

"If I don't have a backup plan to offer short-term rentals to fill those gaps in a shorter lease, unfortunately students are going to be stuck with a 12-month lease," he said. "They're going to be paying for the summer months when they're not using the apartment."

Mota believes the proposed changes are not only "draconian," but won't achieve the desired goal.

"I don't think you're going to see ... a very significant improvement in flipping from short-term rental to long-term rental as a result of these proposals," he said.

He does support the idea of a special enforcement unit to crack down on problem properties, including so-called party houses.

George Mota says he was planning to rent part of his property to students on eight-month leases. But with the new proposed rules, he says he won't be able to find short-term renters for the other four months of the year.  1:30

Rising rents

According to the city, short-term rentals like Airbnb actually contribute to rising rental rates by reducing overall vacancy. The report projects short-term rentals could account for 1.85 per cent of the city's rental stock by 2031, and that could result in annual rent increases of five per cent.

In recent years, rents have been going up by about three per cent.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he doesn't think it should be up to the city to accommodate property owners' business plans, whether they concern student housing or not.

"I don't know that that's the city's responsibility. For us, we want to see long-term rental vacancies, long-term rental units being back into the market," Fleury said.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury supports the staff recommendations to regulate short-term rentals such as Airbnb. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Residents evicted

Coun. Catherine McKenney said they've heard from plenty of residents who have been evicted to make way for Airbnb "ghost hotels." 

"I get calls almost weekly from people who are evicted from their apartments," McKenney said. "They are distraught, they know they can't afford anything in the downtown."

McKenney said they would support even stricter regulations to slow the decline in availability of affordable rental housing.

"We have to come up with something that's going to have teeth, [that's] going to ensure that we're not going to lose our long-term rental stock to short-term rentals," McKenney said.

Alex Dagg, director of public policy for Airbnb Canada, warned the city's proposed bylaw could have unintended consequences. (CBC)

On Friday, Mayor Jim Watson said he supports the staff recommendations both to address the low vacancy rate and to address the "ghost hotels" that bring noise, garbage and crime into residential neighbourhoods

"Airbnb serves a purpose if you want to rent out a place from time to time, but that's your primary residence," Watson said.

"But these people are buying up properties and turning them into for all intents and purposes hotels, year-round 365 days a year, and it's causing problems in neighbourhoods, and we've got to fix that."

Unintended consequences

But Alex Dagg, director of public policy for Airbnb Canada, said those trends pre-date Airbnb.

Dagg said the platform and its hosts provide a convenient target, when in fact it's the responsibility of municipalities and developers to provide more affordable housing.

Dagg agreed with Mota that students and workers here on short-term contracts could become the unintended victims of the city's proposed bylaw.

"We just think that really the City of Ottawa needs to take a more careful look here at what they're doing and what the unintended consequences are going to be," Dagg said. "These are not units that are not going to be suddenly available for long-term tenants."

Dagg suggested Ottawa wait to learn the outcome of an appeal of similar restrictions imposed by the City of Toronto before forging ahead with the bylaw.

The staff report goes to committee Nov. 15.

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