Airbnb 'ghost hotels' keep 1,000+ homes from rental market, report suggests

A thousand homes and apartments are not available for longer-term rentals because commercial operators are listing them on the home-sharing website Airbnb, according to a coalition that has been highlighting the issue.

Airbnb says flawed report shouldn't be used to craft city's new rules

Thorben Wieditz of Fairbnb Canada says 1,000 more housing units could be available on Ottawa's rental market, which is experiencing low vacancy and high rents, if Airbnb listings weren't being used for commercial purposes. (Kate Porter/CBC)

More than 1,000 homes and apartments are being kept off Ottawa's red-hot rental market by landlords listing them on short-term home rental website Airbnb, according to an advocacy group highlighting the issue in Canadian cities.

"The saturation of commercial Airbnbs in Ottawa is higher than we've seen anywhere else in Canada," said Thorben Wieditz of the coalition Fairbnb Canada.

Eighty per cent of the Airbnb listings in the downtown wards of Somerset and Rideau-Vanier are Airbnb "ghost hotels" with no long-term tenants, according to the coalition.

The coalition, whose members include the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association, has been drawing attention to the impact of Airbnb on rental markets in Canadian cities including Toronto and Vancouver.

It analyzed Ottawa's listings in February.

Of the 2,830 short-term rentals available to tourists, Fairbnb decided that 1,054 entire homes were being offered for overnight stays by someone who had at least two listings more than 90 days a year.

Those are units that would be available to students [and]professionals. They'd be available to families and and seniors.- Coun. Mathieu Fleury

The group chose those criteria to try to parse out the Airbnb hosts who were running businesses from those homeowners who rent while they're away.

Alexandra Dagg, a spokesperson with Airbnb, challenged the report's conclusions. 

"Ottawa is home to many responsible Airbnb hosts who share their homes a few nights each month to help make ends meet," she said in an email to CBC.

"This report is based on faulty assumptions and poor research, and is yet another example of a hotel-funded front group villainizing Ottawa families so hotels can continue to protect their ability to price gouge consumers."

Dagg said the company isn't against regulations, but this report shouldn't be the driver. 

"To be clear, Airbnb wants to be regulated. We have always advocated for fair, sensible home-sharing regulations and look forward to continuing to work with the City of Ottawa."

Airbnb drives out renters: Fleury

It came as no surprise to city councillors Mathieu Fleury and Catherine McKenney that their central wards have the most Airbnb listings run for commercial purposes.

Fleury said residents regularly complain of noise and garbage that short-term visitors create in condo buildings and neighbourhoods.

I think that for anybody who is investing in a commercial business that is not allowed, they have to be prepared for those consequences. The city is going to regulate them.- Coun. Catherine McKenney


Moreover, Fleury is concerned about Airbnb "hosts" renting to tourists because it's more lucrative than leasing on the traditional rental market.

"We're losing long-term rental for the community," said Fleury.

'We are running out of affordable rental accommodation'

5 years ago
Duration 0:58
Councillors Mathieu Fleury and Catherine McKenney say short-term rentals are affecting the number of housing units available in the city.

One individual named Geneviève had 76 "ghost hotels", the report found.

"That drives out a lot of folks from our area," said Fleury.

"Those are units that would be available to students. They would be affordable to professionals. They'd be available to families and and seniors."

McKenney, who is the city's housing and homelessness liaison, says the Airbnb phenomenon is affecting the city's ability to make any dent in the waiting list, even as it puts millions in taxpayer money into affordable housing.

"People have a human right to housing, housing stability and housing affordability and we are allowing it to be commercialized. That has to stop," she said.

Regulations coming for Airbnb operators

Currently, operating any rental for less than 28 days in a residential area where hotels aren't allowed is against zoning laws in Ottawa.

Both councillors are looking forward to a wide-ranging review of everything from short-term vacation rentals, to student housing demand, to possible protections for renters evicted because of gentrification.

The city has commissioned a report from Maclaren Municipal Consulting Inc., to be completed by September, which could see recommendations for extra regulations to deal with short-term rentals like Airbnb. Staff will, in turn, provide their advice to councillors before the end of the year.

Fairbnb advocated that Ottawa adopt rules similar to Toronto's, but reduce the number of nights allowed through sites like Airbnb from 180 to 90.

McKenney says coming up with a new regulatory regime will be difficult, but Ottawa can learn lessons from other cities.

"I think that for anybody who is investing in a commercial business that is not allowed, they have to be prepared for those consequences," said McKenney.

"The city is going to regulate them."