What Toronto can learn from other cities about regulating short-term rentals
Hosts in London, San Francisco can only have guests for 90 days out of the year
As the City of Toronto mulls how to regulate short-term rentals, it need only look across the pond — and across the continent — for a host of answers.
But it's in London and Amsterdam where this city will find an interesting partnership: in both cities, Airbnb agreed to change its platform so that hosts cannot put up their homes for more than 90 and 60 days, respectively, in a year.
The world's largest home-sharing site — with more than three million listings in 191 countries — negotiated the agreements in December 2016 and changed its platform at the beginning of this year.
Ryerson University professor Daniel Guttentag said he expects to see Toronto adopt a similar "annual quota" when the city passes its own regulations, something it's gathering information for right now.
"That annual quota is sort of the model that virtually every city is enacting," said the professor, whose research focuses on home-sharing public policy. "And I certainly foresee that sort of regulation being enacted eventually here in Toronto as well."
But for that to be successful, Guttentag said Toronto would need Airbnb to enforce the rules as well.
No promises yet from Airbnb
The Canadian public policy manager for Airbnb, however, would not commit to doing that. Instead, Alex Dagg said the home-sharing platform has shared plenty of data with the city and will continue to work with it as Toronto crafts regulations.
The city has been looking at how to curb short-term rentals, because of concerns that rental supply — condo rentals currently sit at a one per cent vacancy rate, according to the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. — are being eaten up by Airbnb, Craigslist, VRBO and similar sites.
The same issue prompted London city council to adopt its quota. The Institute for Public Policy Research said home-sharing hadn't yet cut into the rental supply, but they advocated "for preemptive action."
But Dagg described the agreements in Europe as "unique" and said North American cities have preferred to enforce regulations themselves.
Backing off the legal battle
The city of San Francisco, however, was actually the first to prompt the home-sharing platform to offer to help police hosts who try to rent for longer than allowed.
That olive branch came about six months after Airbnb had sued the city when it tried to enforce a law that required hosts to register for municipal licences.
The platform agreed to work with the city to "create a modern, simplified registration system" and share certain data to ensure hosts didn't go past the 90-day renting cap, an announcement published in a Nov. 13, 2016 opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Two weeks later, at the same time it struck agreements with London, England, and Amsterdam, it also settled a lawsuit it launched against the Attorney General of New York state, The New York Times reported. Airbnb had tried to fight a law passed by the state senate in the fall that banned the advertising of rentals offered for less than 30 days and would draw a fine of $7,500.
In their settlement, both sides agreed that the state would levy fines against the hosts directly rather than the site itself, according to The New York Times.
What it means for Toronto
But Thorben Wieditz, a researcher with Fairbnb, said he doesn't believe that having Airbnb enforce a quota would be the best route for the city.
Although Airbnb is the largest home-sharing platform, hosts can list their properties on other sites if they hit their limit on the former, the housing advocate with the organization Fairbnb said.
"I think we have to be very careful not to lose control over the city's ability to monitor what's going on and also enforce the city's regulations."
Wieditz said he would prefer to see Toronto follow the example of Vancouver, which has released a plan that only allows rentals that run for fewer than 30 days in a home that's someone's principal residence.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson had said that he expected the move would put 1,000 homes back on the short-term rental market.
In Toronto, data supplied by Airbnb shows that about 80 per cent of the site's 8,600 hosts are renting out their primary home and not an income property.
Ward 27 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said that she'd prefer to look at Canadian models that the city can enforce when it comes to regulating short-term rentals. It's critical, however, that the changes make more homes available for residents, she said.
"The vacancy rates in Toronto for families who are looking for permanent rental homes, long-term rentals, is very, very tight," she said. "There is simply not enough inventory. If we lose 10,000, 20,000 units ... to short-term rentals it means that families trying to live in the downtown core ... will not have those options."
With files from Lauren Pelley