Upcoming home-sharing regulations only go 'halfway,' says landlord who uncovered Airbnb operation

In September 2017, Robert Johnston found an ideal tenant for his Etobicoke rental property. Six months later, he now feels lied to by a man renting out the unit on Airbnb. He says city bylaws won't prevent this type of situation.

Tenants can apply for city permits without property owner permission, says landlord

Toronto landlord Robert Johnston feels upcoming city regulations should force tenants to get their landlord's consent — before they're allowed to get a permit. (Chris Cargus/CBC News)

When Robert Johnston started renting out his wife's childhood home, he did his due diligence by checking potential tenants' references, credit reports, and even bringing in a property management company to help vet the candidates.

In September 2017, he found an ideal tenant. Six months later, he now feels lied to.

Neighbours around the three-bedroom house in south Etobicoke started noticing people with suitcases coming and going from the property, and Johnston later found the house listed by his tenant on Airbnb.

"I confronted him about it and he said, 'You got me,'" Johnston recalled.

The Toronto landlord decided to share his story after a recent CBC Toronto investigation into property owners' units being rented on Airbnb without their consent. He said the city's upcoming home-sharing regulations won't actually protect people like him from having their units listed behind their backs.

City council voted in December on the new regulations, which will require short-term rental operators to obtain a licence starting on June 1. Homeowners or renters will also be limited to offering their primary residence for short-term rentals, defined as less than 28 days.

But Johnston said while those regulations are his "best hope," they don't have enough teeth. Right now, because his tenant is renting out rooms rather than subletting the entire house, he said he has no recourse since it's not prohibited by the Residential Tenancies Act — and based on legal advice, he's not actively trying to evict the tenant.

The regulations won't change this kind of situation, he said, because tenants like his will still be able to run home sharing operations if it's their primary residence, regardless of whether they own the place.

"The tenant can apply for a permit from the city without any authorization from the property owner," he told CBC Toronto.

Robert Johnston showed CBC Toronto the Airbnb listing operated by the tenant in his south Etobicoke rental property. (Chris Gargus/CBC News)

Regulations allow tenants, owners to home-share

The regulations have previously faced criticism from affordable housing advocates and some city councillors, including Jim Karygiannis, who previously tried to push through changes like a stipulation that if the operator is a tenant, they must provide "written authorization from the homeowner."

As they're written right now, the regulations won't do enough to "protect the neighbourhoods in Toronto," said Karygiannis, who hopes the bylaws will be tweaked by city council in the years ahead. 

Carleton Grant, director of policy and strategic support with the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards division, said the regulations were built to allow as many people as possible to participate in home-sharing while ensuring there are ample rental opportunities.

"That allows a tenant or an owner to participate... be it two weeks a year, or two days a year," he said.

He stressed that landlords would have recourses. Condo owners, for instance, could see if their condominium corporation allows home-sharing he said. "The other opportunity is to have language in your lease that doesn't allow them to rent it out," Grant added.

Ontario has created a standardized lease document to be used in almost all residential rental agreements beginning April 30. The document focuses on essentials like rent and utilities, but it will also contain a section called "additional terms" for landlords to add other items.

That's not enough for Johnston. Despite how council voted, he feels the regulations should force tenants to get their landlord's consent — before they're allowed to get a permit.

"The bylaw only goes halfway," he said.


Lauren Pelley is a CBC News reporter based in Toronto. Currently covering how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting Canadians, in Toronto and beyond. Contact her at: