Richmond’s short-term rental ban could be tough to enforce: expert

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Nadia Stewart looks at the challenges of trying to prevent AirBnB and sites like it from operating in Metro Vancouver – Jan 13, 2017

Richmond, B.C. could be just the first of a number of Metro Vancouver communities to ban short-term rentals like Airbnb.

Such bans could be tough to enforce. But it’s nevertheless a move that has caught the eye of many in the region, including City of North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto.

WATCH BELOW: Richmond city council has voted to ban unlicensed short-term rentals like Airbnb. While vacancy rates are low in the city, that’s not what prompted the change. Nadia Stewart reports.

Click to play video 'Richmond bans unlicensed short-term rentals' Richmond bans unlicensed short-term rentals
Richmond bans unlicensed short-term rentals – Jan 11, 2017

“Right now it’s not as big a problem as in the rest of the region but it very well could be one soon,” Mussatto said.

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There are over 300 North Vancouver listings on Airbnb and almost 900 on Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO). Mussatto said short-term rentals are only allowed in homes where the owner also lives there full-time.

So far, the city hasn’t had any problems, but Mussatto worries it could deal with some soon.

An Airbnb ad for homes in Vancouver.
An Airbnb ad for homes in Vancouver. Airbnb

“We’re watching the region very closely to make sure that we have the right regulations in place. If we need to change them, we will. We see other municipalities that don’t have them as much and they’re having more challenges,” Mussatto said.

That was the case in Richmond. It’s part of the reason why the city voted this week to ban all unlicensed short-term rentals.

However, a ban is easier said than done, according to affordable housing researcher Iain Majoribanks.

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“In New York City, they wanted to enforce their ban on short-term rentals, on Airbnb. Airbnb has taken held a hard line and said we’re going to continue to operate,” Majoribanks said.

Airbnb argued that the ban violates the company’s rights to free speech and due process and that, under the Communications Decency Act, it can’t be held responsible for whatever their users post, according to The New York Times,

Global News contacted Airbnb and VRBO to find out whether they would respect Richmond’s ban once it’s in place. They did not respond.

READ MORE: Airbnb pulls 130 Vancouver listings deemed ‘commercial’

Marjoribanks thinks Richmond could have a battle on its hands.

“It’s certainly a fight that we’re going to be having in the courts. The silver lining is of course that we are our own country, we have our own laws and we’re able to create our own rules that reflect our community values,” Majoribanks said.

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“It’s certainly a fight that we’re going to be having in the courts.”

Short-term rentals have had a negative impact on workers in B.C.’s tourism industry.

Finding long-term housing in resort towns has been a struggle lately, said Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of BC.

“The long term rental market has been converted to short term rentals and we have to change that,” he said.

READ MORE: Will Airbnb’s impact on the short-term rental market be its downfall?

That was the kind of impact Richmond says it was also trying to avoid. Judas says he’ll be keeping a close eye on how the ban plays out.

“I think it’s a bold step on the part of the city of Richmond, but the enforcement piece is going to be the most difficult,” Judas said.