Vancouver to regulate short term rentals

James Chase, BCHA.

James Chase, BCHA.

VANCOUVER — Vancouver is the first major city in Canada to regulate short-term rentals including Airbnb. The mayor, the Hotel Association of Canada and BCHA's James Chase applaud the deal as a positive first step.

“Congratulations to @CityofVancouver for regulating short term rentals today. A huge step forward! Now need strong enforcement,” tweeted HAC president and CEO Susie Grynol.

The legislation, passed Nov. 14, restricts short-term rentals of suites that are not principal residences.  Under the new regulations, which will come into effect on April 1, hosts will have to buy a business licence that costs $49 per year, spend $54 on a one-time application fee and display their license number on online listings. The penalty is a $1,000 fine for each violation. 

The new regulations ban short-term rentals of entire apartments or houses if the person doesn't live there. It also bans basement apartments and laneway rentals that could house long-term tenants.  The rules allow owners to rent out parts of their house or apartment, or rent out the whole unit if they are away on vacation.

“In Vancouver, 52 per cent of people rent,” said James Chase, president and CEO of the British Columbia Hotel Association (BCHA). “Those people are vulnerable. We're been hearing from workers and other business associations that they are having a had time finding places and that prices are going up to ridiculous levels.”

Short-term rentals (less than 30 days) are currently not allowed in Vancouver. The City’s objective in legalizing short- term rentals is to balance competing priorities; enabling short-term rentals, while taking steps to protect the public good. 

“This is a straightforward regulatory approach,” said Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson. “It is definitely balanced in terms of cities around the world and how they approach this.”

Robertson said short-term rentals affect the rental housing supply, particularly in cities like Vancouver where there is a rental housing crunch and a near-zero rental vacancy rate. 

The new rules “will make sure that almost 80 per cent of those (short-term rentals) currently out there are actually legal rather than illegal, and that (with) the balance we see some return to long-term rentals,” he said. The city estimates about 1,000 units will return to the long-term market. 

The city will have a dedicated enforcement coordinator and an additional inspector to support complaint-driven inspections and audits.  

Airbnb, which has an 82 per cent market share in Vancouver, is the only platform that participated in the public hearings.  The city said it is also talking with Expedia, which operates VRBO and HomeAway and has a nine per cent market share, and will reach out again to other platforms. It also says it has plans to discuss a voluntary transaction fee of up to three per cent of booking prices with the platforms. 

The Vancouver vote was critical, because Vancouver sets the pace for the province, said Chase. About 40 or 50 communities in B.C. are considering similar legislation, including Tofino, Fernie, Salmon Arm and Pemberton. “It's a huge catalyst for the whole province,” he added.