Toronto

How Toronto's proposed short-term rental regulations compare to other cities

While the regulations in Vancouver and Montreal are aimed at returning homes or units to the rental market, their effectiveness remains in question. Recent data obtained by CBC News has shed a light on how well enforcement is working.

Places like Montreal and Vancouver already have regulations - but how effective are they?

Left to right: Toronto's CN Tower, Montreal's St. Joseph's Oratory and Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge. Montreal and Vancouver already have rules governing short-term rentals. (Timothy Neesam/CBC, Paolo Costa/Shutterstock, Felix Lipov/Shutterstock)

In late 2017 and early 2018, Toronto city council approved regulations on what kind of short-term rentals should be permitted in the city. 

While Airbnb hosts are appealing the city's move at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal— with a decision not expected until after the hearing in August — other Canadian cities already have regulations in effect.

Montreal has both provincial and city regulations on who can operate a short-term rental, as well as restrictions on neighbourhoods in which they're allowed.

Vancouver has regulations that apply to the entire city, and requires hosts to have a business licence.

Under Toronto's proposed rules, short-term rental hosts would only be allowed to list their primary residences. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

While the regulations in those cities are aimed at returning homes or units to the rental market, their effectiveness remains in question. Recent data obtained by CBC News has shed light on how well enforcement is working. At least one expert says neither city has fully addressed the issue, and says without proper data from companies like Airbnb, they won't.

What Toronto wants

The rules proposed by the City of Toronto define "short-term" as less than 28 days. It wants to restrict short-term rentals to primary residences — in other words, you can only list the home you live in on sites like Airbnb. An entire home can be rented as a short-term rental if the owner/tenant is away up to a maximum of 180 nights per year

If you want to rent out your home, you must register with the City of Toronto and pay a fee of $50. If it's a company — like Airbnb — they must be licensed by the city and pay a fee of $5,000 plus $1 a night booked through the platform.

Carleton Grant, Toronto's executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards said the city looked at other jurisdictions before coming up with its own short-term rental regulations. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

In terms of enforcement, Carleton Grant, the city's executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards, said it's an honour system.

"Enforcement would be address based on complaint. We would look at our database to say, 'You're not registered you're not able to participate in this space,'" said Grant.

Fines for breaking the bylaw could be as high as $100,000.

Vancouver

There are similarities in other cities to what Toronto wants to bring in.

In Vancouver, short-term rentals — which it defines as less than 30 days — are permitted only in a property owner's primary residence. Vancouver's bylaws require hosts to get a business licence as well.

If hosts break these rules, they could be fined $1,000 by the city. 

Vancouver's chief licence inspector Kathryn Holm believes her city's regulations have been successful so far. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC News)

Since the regulations came into effect, listings on sites like Airbnb have dropped by about 40 per cent.

"When our regulations went live last September, Airbnb removed almost 2,500 listings of operators who had chosen not to be compliant with our bylaws," said Kathryn Holm, Vancouver's chief licence inspector.

When it comes to enforcement, it's not just complaints driven. It also monitors websites for non-compliant operators not registered with the city.

Montreal

In Montreal, the rules are a combination of provincial and city regulations.

Unlike Toronto and Vancouver,  you are allowed to rent out a property that's not your primary residence on a short term basis. If it's for less than 31 days, and you're doing it on a "regular basis", the unit is classified as a "tourist residence" and you need to get certification from a body called the CITQ (Corporation de l'industrie touristique du Québec).

In June 2018, Montreal’s Ville-Marie borough ruled that regular listings on Airbnb would only be permitted along a three-kilometre stretch of Sainte-Catherine Street. (Benoît Chapdelaine/Radio-Canada)

But it's unclear what's classified as renting out a space "on a regular basis." The law defines it as "habitual" "constant" or "recurrent."

Fines for lawbreakers range from $2,500 to $50,0000. But Revenu Québec — the provincial body responsible for monitoring Airbnb listings since June 2018 —  has not issued a single fine, just warnings.

In Montreal, some neighbourhoods have also implemented their own rules.

For example, in Ville-Marie, listings for "tourist residences" are only allowed in a 3.3-kilometre stretch surrounding one of the city's busiest commercial streets.

The rules also prevent new rentals from opening within 150 metres of each other. But a recent CBC investigation found between 700 and 800 active listings and almost all of them are outside the permitted zone.

'I don't think there is a single place that has really solved this problem'

At least one expert said existing regulations are not effective in cracking down on illegal operators.

"I don't think there's a single place that really solved this problem," said McGill Prof. David Wachsmuth, who has studied Airbnb for three years

"There are a whole bunch of good ideas about what effective regulations would look like, but they all basically hinge on whether cities or provinces get the data about Airbnb hosts in order to effectively enforce them."

McGill Professor David Wachsmuth has studied Airbnb for years and says regulations will only be effective if Airbnb shares data about hosts. (CBC News)

In a statement to CBC News, Airbnb said it's worked directly with cities to share "comprehensive data" and information but added: "In doing so we need to balance this with the privacy of our user community."

The fate of the City of Toronto's proposed regulations won't be known until this fall at the earliest. A hearing is set for

August, but city officials say it could take months after that to formally introduce regulations — that is, if the appeal by Airbnb hosts is dismissed.

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