Saskatoon

AirBnb against move that would require condo board letters of permission for hosts

The City of Saskatoon wants would-be Airbnb hosts to get written permission first from their condo boards. Airbnb Canada says that's "burdensome and unnecessary."

The company says it would be 'burdensome and unnecessary'

The City of Saskatoon wants would-be Airbnb hosts to get permission first from their condo boards. Airbnb Canada says that's "burdensome and unnecessary." (Airbnb)

Airbnb Canada is asking the City of Saskatoon to rethink a rule that would require hosts to produce written permission from their condominium boards stating they can launch an Airbnb inside their condos. 

But Nathan Rotman, Airbnb Canada's deputy director of public policy, says explicit approval from condo boards that already have condominium bylaws is an "unnecessary and repetitive burden." 

"If the condo bylaws are legally binding documents, there's no reason that a repetitive, added layer of regulation should be put in place," Rotman said. 

The feedback came during a public hearing last week on the city's proposed new regime for regulating short-term rentals such as Airbnbs.

The city wants condo owners seeking to start a short-term rental in their property to secure a letter from their condo board blessing the enterprise (or not). 

Rotman cited a more hands-off system in place in Vancouver, where condo owners self-declare to the city simply whether their building's bylaws allow for Airbnbs. 

"You check off 'yes or no' and then it is a private matter between the board and others," Rotman said. 

Where the city is coming from 

Jeff Jackson, a previous chair of the city's municipal planning commission and a former Airbnb host in a condo building, was more blunt about requiring a condo board letter. 

"[It's] quite frankly a waste of time," Jackson said. "If condo boards don't want to allow them, they will enact a bylaw for their condo corporation. I know this being on two condo boards. No need for city hall to be involved, at all."

Councillor Randy Donauer said "the less regulation we can get into the business place, the better."

Donauer then asked the city's manager of licensing and permitting, Mark Wilson, why the city wants a letter of approval from condo boards.

Wilson said some condo associations aren't even sure which of their units are home to Airbnbs. Mayor Charlie Clark guessed that as many as 90 per cent of condos in the city don't have Airbnb-specific rules "because it's pretty new."

Letters of permission would allow the city to stay informed about each building's condo rules, Wilson said.

They would also allow condo boards to make flexible, case-by-case assessments about would-be Airbnb hosts, Wilson added.

Wilson said the city heard from condo boards who say they have no problem with responsible renters but Airbnbs have been a problem in the same building when another renter is irresponsible. 

The host's responsibility

As both Wilson and Jackson suggested, if an Airbnb condo turned problematic, the condo board could signal to the city that it no longer approves of the business. 

Councillor Bev Dubois said she's heard from condo boards "that don't have a clue what to do." 

"They don't know if it's something that the city deals with," she said.

Jackson suggested hosts should play a key role in policing Airbnbs. 

"As a [former] Airbnb host myself, I made sure that my neighbours next to me, across from me and above me all had my cell phone number," Jackson said.

"If there were any concerns, I don't want to hear about it tomorrow, I want to hear about it today. So I think that we [hosts] need to be active. We can't always look to the city to manage this for us."

'My main concern is bedbugs' 

Keith Pearson, who said he was a former bylaw officer in Kelowna, B.C., struck a different tone in telling the city to be careful about whatever regime it approves for Airbnbs.

"My main concern — because I live in a condo — is bedbugs," Pearson said. 

Councillors also heard concerns about a proposal to regulate short-term rentals through discretionary use applications, as well as the way the city consulted the public. 

The city will now report back to council on an alternative idea: regulating short-term rentals through a business licencing process.

That report is expected to land on councillors' desks in April.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips and ideas welcomed at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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