Lockboxes left on public property have become the most recent targets for officials at Montreal city hall.
They are key boxes, with a combination lock, in which owners of Airbnb-type properties can leave a key for clients to enter the property they rent. Most are attached to parking meters, bike racks and other public property, and several can be found around downtown and the Plateau Mont-Royal areas.
“It’s a way that operators of illegal tourist residences have been evading detection because with lockboxes you can’t associate with an individual address,” says Alex Norris, a City Councillor in the Plateau Mont-Royal borough.
In some cases, the operator isn’t even in the city.
“Major real estate speculators buy up multiple properties, evict the tenants and then turn these properties into hotels when it’s completely illegal to have that kind of operation in a residential setting,” he explains.
He says because this is happening, the city is losing affordable rental property.
“We estimate that thousands of apartments that could have otherwise been inhabited by tenants have been removed from the markets for these hotel-like operations.”
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The city has ordered its blue-collar workers to cut the locks off when they find them. This is the most recent push to help prevent some neighbourhoods from becoming inhabited by mostly tourists.
“We want to keep a balance between residential life and visitors,” Norris says.
Other restrictions placed on Airbnb-type setups include limiting them to certain commercial arteries, and for operators to register with the province.
But some owners caution that too many restrictions could be a bad thing.
“It just means that people will leave Montreal again,” says owner Tapasya, who declined to give her last name. “Allow people to be enterprising to let the income come into the city, is what I say.”
She says the service is convenient and popular, and that the key is to find the right balance.