City of Saskatoon examines 3 options for regulating services like Airbnb

Jim Bence, president of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, said councillors need to “do their homework” on regulations to ensure they understand their effect on the city.

Limits on number of guests, parking requirements, licensing all being considered

The City of Saskatoon is looking at three options for how to regulate short-term accommodations, including Airbnb, here in Saskatoon. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

The Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association wants to see the costs associated with three options the city is examining for regulating short-term rental properties like Airbnb.

Earlier this week, the City of Saskatoon's municipal planning commission sent a report to city council that outlined three options for regulating the rentals, with the properties divided into two categories: "homestays" and "short-term rental properties."

A homestay is defined as accommodations in the principle residence of the host, while a short-term rental refers to accommodations in a rental property.

Jim Bence, president of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, said councillors need to "do their homework" on regulations to ensure they understand their effect on the city. 

"As they go forward, having a cost analysis done on each option as to what it would cost the city and the taxpayers of Saskatoon would be invaluable," he said.

There are currently 610 active short-term accommodations in Saskatoon listed through Airbnb alone, which represents an increase of more than 500 listings since December 2015. Roughly 60 per cent of the listings are for homes where the host does not live, or is away during the rental period.

In Saskatoon, the vast majority are operating outside of zoning and licensing regulations, as there are only 15 licensed businesses in the city. 

In the first of the three options, city administration indicates homestays will be allowed in all zoning districts and require a commercial business licence, with short-term rentals prohibited across the board. 

The second option would see homestays permitted in all zoning districts that permit dwellings, with homestays required to obtain a commercial business license. In this option, short-term rentals would be permitted in all zoning districts, but would require discretionary approval in low and medium density residential districts, with the host requiring a commercial business licence.

Jim Bence, CEO and president of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association, says the city should do a cost analysis for all of the options its examining for short-term accommodations. (CBC)

The third option — and the option recommended by city administration — would allow homestays in all zoning districts, and if the accommodation was only hosting one or two guests, it would not require a commercial business licence. But if the number of guests increases, the operator would have to obtain a licence at the cost of $125.

Short-term rentals would be permitted in all zoning districts that permit dwellings, but would require discretionary-use approval in low and medium density residential zoning districts. 

Under this option, all short-term rental property hosts would be required to obtain a commercial business licence.

Under the proposed regulations, these rentals will also require two on-site parking spaces, one for principle use and one for guests, alongside written permission from the condo corporation if the property is in a condominium, and written permission from the property owner if they're hosting accommodation they do not own.

The number of guests these rentals can accommodate is also limited to six people.

Bence feels the option being put forward by city administration is the "most problematic," saying the city should be doing a cost-analysis on all the options to see which will be the most cost-effective.

"There needs to be more investigation on this as to how this is going to impact the expense line for the city. How are they going to pay for this?"

Bence said the first option would address the majority of the association's concerns, including how the city would monitor and enforce guest limits and parking requirements, alongside concerns about the safety of the accommodations. 

Eric Wilkinson runs an Airbnb in Hudson Bay Park, which would be classified as a short-term rental. He said he would not be opposed to getting a commercial business licence.

"I'm against too much restriction in terms of what a homeowner is allowed with their property," he said. "In terms of a commercial business licence, I'm not opposed to that; I don't think that's the worst option they've put forward." 

However, Wilkinson said the proposed requirements around paid parking and guest limits were "a little bit excessive and more restrictive that they needed to be." 

He says the option favoured by the administration will be positive for small Airbnb hosts, but the majority of people in Saskatoon are renting to larger groups. He said the short-term rentals are a good way for landlords to ensure their properties are occupied, even if there are few renters looking for long-term accommodation.

Eric Wilkinson, who runs an Airbnb in Saskatoon, said he'd be open to paying for a commercial business licence, but does have concerns if restrictions around the accommodations become too excessive. (Eric Wilkinson/Supplied )

"Sites like Airbnb, VRBO, all of the short-term rental stuff are here to stay," he said. "It's inevitable there will be some type of regulation in regards to this; my concern comes if restrictions start to get a little too tight." 

Wilkinson said he's not too concerned about the regulations as they work their way through to city council, but for people who run Airbnb at several properties, the proposed restrictions may hurt their bottom line.

Unlike a subcommittee, the commission cannot ask city administration to rework the report, but can recommend council go back to administration for more details. Ultimately, however, Saskatoon's councillors will be the ultimate decision makers. 

Coun. Mairin Loewen, who represents Ward 7 and sits on the commission, said Airbnb's and similar rentals have been operating for several years without much oversight. She said this has had mixed results in other cities.

"These kinds of options are both positive from the point of view from facilitating tourism and students and business coming to the city," she said. "But if left unchecked can have negative implications on the local housing market, and in extreme cases, even displace or disrupt rental accommodations to a fairly significant degree." 

Loewen said this is not happening in Saskatoon right now, but said it's important city administration stay on top of the situation. 

"It's here. It's a reality. It's something that the market wants and we also need to make sure there aren't negative implications for the community for the people who live here."