Airbnb ban? Not likely to happen, councillors say

City councils in both Toronto and Mississauga are considering their options for regulating the short-term vacation-rental service Airbnb, but some councillors say an outright ban is likely not possible.

Calls to regulate short-term vacation rental services growing louder with neighbourhood problems

Both Toronto and Mississauga are looking at ways to regulate short-term vacation-rental services like Airbnb. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC)

City councils in both Toronto and Mississauga are considering their options for regulating the short-term vacation-rental service Airbnb, but some councillors say an outright ban is likely not possible.

Mississauga Coun. Karen Ras and Toronto Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam have put forward motions at their respective councils to look at how the online rental service, whereby vacationers rent private homes on a short-term basis, could be regulated.

The moves come amid complaints from residents in both cities that houses and condos in their neighbourhoods are being rented out to people who then go on to have loud parties, or don't follow condo rules and regulations.

Asked whether an outright ban is being considered, both councillors said such a move would likely be impossible to enforce.

"I'm not sure that's doable," Ras told CBC's Metro Morning on Tuesday.

Even trying to license the business would be difficult to enforce, she said.

"So why not work with Airbnb to have a better complaint system. Why don't we educate users as to what their rights and responsibilities are?" she said.

In Toronto, Wong-Tam said of a ban she's "not sure that's a road we need to go down." Rather, any regulations must focus on better consumer protection but also maintain public safety.

"I think the city has the right to regulate land use, and those type of zoning bylaws are in place especially to make sure that everyone is aware that when you purchase a property, this is what you get to do with it," she told Metro Morning.

'A whole host of issues'

Neither city has regulations governing short-term rentals, though the issue has become a hot topic in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, a group of residents and owners at a downtown Toronto condo took back control of their building from short-term rental companies they said had turned their home into a hotel.

The group said other short-term rental companies, like WhiteHall Suites and Red Maple Suites, were doing business in the building near Wellington and John streets, in violation of the condo rules that say the shortest rental period is one year.

The companies lease units from owners and then rent them on travel booking sites.

In other cases, owners themselves are renting the units on sites like Airbnb.

In Mississauga, the issue came to a head in the spring, when a home on Snowflake Lane became a party house, rented to different people nearly every weekend for the express purpose of throwing parties.

The best the city could do in that case was send bylaw enforcement officers and police to do regular checks, and have parking enforcement officers issue tickets to vehicles parked unlawfully.

Ras said noise, drug-use and garbage issues are the biggest concerns she hears from residents, and she's hearing these complaints with increasing frequency.

"There's a whole host of issues that come up with these party houses," Ras said. "It's not the law-abiding renters who are causing these issues."

'Something else will pop up'

Wong-Tam said she, too, is hearing complaints about short-term rentals more often.

"It seems that Airbnb units are popping up everywhere," she said.

"We need to build a regulatory framework so everybody knows how they are supposed to be operating."

Other short-term rental accommodations, such as rooming houses, are licensed and inspected by the city, Wong-Tam noted.

"That is not the case when a house is converted into an Airbnb unit."

Municipalities have control over land-use planning and zoning, she said, so some kind of regulatory framework should be possible.

Neither councillor knows exactly what regulations may be coming down the pipe in their cities, but the online sharing economy will only keep growing, Ras said.

 "I'm not sure there is a silver bullet because something else will pop up."