Ottawa

Airbnb's new age policy gets mixed reaction

A new policy by Airbnb aimed at reducing the number of violent incidents at short-term rental properties listed on the site is garnering mixed reaction in Ottawa.

Move follows deadly incidents at short-term rentals in Toronto, Ottawa

Airbnb announced the changes Wednesday, five days after three people were killed and two injured in a shooting at a rented condo in Toronto. (Martin Bureau/Getty Images)

A new policy by Airbnb aimed at reducing the number of violent incidents at short-term rental properties listed on the site is garnering mixed reaction in Ottawa.

On Wednesday, Airbnb announced it will begin testing new regulations across Canada this month that will ban local guests under the age of 25 from booking entire homes.

Guests under 25 years old will still be able to book a private room within a host's primary residence, but won't be able to rent an "un-hosted home" within a certain geographical distance of where they're living, according to spokesperson Chris Lehane.

The company hasn't specified what that distance would be. 

The announcement came just days after three people were killed and two injured in a shooting at an Airbnb condo in Toronto.

In January, Manok Akol, 18, was killed and three others injured in a shooting at an Airbnb on Gilmour Street in Ottawa. 

Manyok Akol, 18, died in a shooting at an Airbnb on Gilmour Street in January. (Manyok Akol/YouTube)

There have been even deadlier incidents at Airbnb properties in the United States.

Airbnb is also setting up a 24/7 helpline for neighbours to call if there's is a problem with one of its listings, and the company said it's donating $300,000 over three years to the advocacy group Doctors for Protection from Guns.

Airbnb will ban local guests under the age of 25 from booking entire homes. 9:17

Host applauds move

Jeff Boyd, who rents out two units in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood through Airbnb, applauded the company's initiative.

Jeff Boyd, who rents two properties in Hintonburg through Airbnb, applauds the company's move. (Jeff Boyd)

"Anything that cracks down on bad actors, we're in favour of — always have been," he said.

 "The only major issue we've ever had with a party was with somebody under 25. It was unpleasant for us, for our guests, for our neighbours. We had to respond several times. Any mechanism that would have prevented that, we would have welcomed."

But Jack Hanna, vice-president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association, doesn't believe the new policy goes nearly far enough.

"Criminal activity is happening at Airbnbs, we know that, and that's not going to do anything about it," Hanna said.

Instead, Hanna, whose association represents the area where January's shooting took place, believes authorities need to crack down on absentee landlords and Airbnb "ghost hotels."

"The police in Toronto have said that the problem is that unlike a traditional hotel, an Airbnb has no desk staff, no security staff, no security cameras, they're inexpensive, so they're good places from which to ... anonymously conduct criminal activities."

Jack Hana, vice president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association, says Airbnb isn't doing enough to prevent criminal activity in rental units listed on its platform. 0:32

'Too little, too late'

For one neighbour of the Gilmour Street house where January's fatal shooting took place, Airbnb's efforts are too little, too late.

"I'm still overreacting to every loud noise outside," Colin Gillespie said. "I've had three shooting incidents on my street in the last year and a half, and I don't remember shooting incidents on my street before that. So yeah, I'd call it a little too little, too late."

The city has moved to restrict short-term rentals to principal residences or vacation properties. Hosts would also have to apply for a short-term rental permit that could be revoked due to bad behaviour by guests.

Those changes, if granted final approval, won't take effect for about a year.

About the Author

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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