Make Airbnb pay for illegal Vancouver rentals, campaign urges city
Make them pay — the websites advertising short-term rentals, that is.
That’s the solution that a campaign proposes in order to make the City of Vancouver’s regulations around rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO function properly — and actually help the city make a difference in terms of freeing up rental units.
Coverage of Airbnb on Globalnews.ca:
As the city works towards new rules to govern short-term rental suites, a campaign calling itself Fairbnb.ca has issued a report calling on Vancouver to modify its regulations so that the sites themselves are held accountable for the illegal rentals that show up among their listings.
“Airbnb themselves have to be legally constricted to not list suites illegally,” Quentin Wright, executive director of the Mole Hill Community Housing Society and a participant in the campaign, said Tuesday.
The report, titled “Accountable at the Source,” suggests that Vancouver take a cue from other cities and hold rental platforms like Airbnb directly accountable for such listings through fines or other measures.
Fairbnb, which is a coalition of property owners, renters, and groups from the hotel and bed-and-breakfast industries, proposes that Vancouver set up a system that would require hosts to obtain permits in order to use their properties as short-term rentals.
Sites like Airbnb, meanwhile, would be required to list only permitted rentals, and be fined each day that an illegal listing is advertised there.
A similar system is in place in San Francisco, where Airbnb was founded, Fairbnb recounted in its report.
The city’s board of governors introduced rules that fined the company up to $1,000 per day for unregistered listings that appeared on the site.
Airbnb sued San Francisco, but a judge later rejected the company’s claim, according to Fairbnb. The listings platform subsequently worked with San Francisco to help enforce the rules.
Toronto has also proposed a form of platform accountability that requires short-term rental sites to list lawful listings with a municipal permit number, Fairbnb added.
Vancouver’s short-term rental regulations would make anyone who wants to rent out their home obtain a $49 annual licence that would also be displayed on the listing.
Platforms like Airbnb or VRBO would also have to charge a three-per-cent transaction fee. This money would help administer and enforce the city’s licensing regime.
But the regulations don’t contain anything that hold the platforms themselves accountable.
A staff report from July said there’s an “ongoing legal debate” about whether platforms like Airbnb are carrying out business in the city, or whether they’re just facilitating it.
The staff report went on to say that it’s not clear whether licences are required for platforms that are based outside Vancouver; licences are required for platforms that have staff or offices in the city.
For its part, Airbnb was largely dismissive of Fairbnb, saying it’s a front group funded by “big hotels.”
The rental platform said it wants to regulated, and that it has “always advocated for fair sensible home-sharing regulations and look forward to continuing our collaborative relationship with the City of Vancouver.”
WATCH: Vancouver criticized for empty home tax PR campaign
Why does Vancouver need a PR agency to promote its empty homes tax?
Meanwhile, the city is facing additional criticism for hiring an ad agency to promote its empty homes tax, another measure designed to free up the city’s rental stock.
The agency is being used to spread the city’s message about the empty homes tax on paid media channels, with ads targeting people who don’t speak English and aren’t computer-savvy.
Critics wonder why this is happening when the City of Vancouver had many as 33 people working on its corporate communication team, as of March.
Global News reached out to the city asking whether this ad campaign was within the scope of the duties carried out by the corporate communications team.
The city said it has gone to a third party because it “wants to ensure that every effort is made to educate the impacted public about this new tax process.”
City Coun. George Affleck was “surprised” the city hired an outside agency.
- With files from Simon Little and Grace Ke
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.