*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first published on Nov. 28 and updated on Dec. 2.
Edmonton’s hotel industry has launched a campaign, pushing city council to tighten up the rules around short-term rentals like Airbnb.
The complaint is that homes are run like businesses — or mini-hotels — but they aren’t regulated that way.
In the summer, city council amended the rules to require homes operating as short-term rentals have a business licence. This campaign — called TooMuch.ca — wants to push it further. Those behind it would like to see the city adopt new zoning bylaws that distinguish a rental home from a residential one.
Karen Chalmers referenced other Canadian cities that have rules that restrict short-term rentals to homes that are primary residences.
“It’s true that the reason that hotels have been watching Airbnb is because they’ve had an unfair tax and regulation advantage over hotels when we’re virtually in the same industry. But we’re not always hoteliers. We’re here today because, at the end of the day, we go home to our homes in our communities and we want those safeguarded as well,” Chalmers said.
Several residents also spoke at Edmonton City Hall on Thursday.
Angela Sun lives in the Garneau area across the street from two homes she says are used constantly for parties.
“It’s two Airbnb houses that are owned by people who are not living on the property, they’re actually from B.C. These houses are holding up to 16-plus, 18-plus guests. The owner of these properties never shows up,” she said.
But those who rent their homes on the platform feel they’re providing a service, filling a need in the market, and following the rules.
“We’re giving people an opportunity to have their families together when they go on vacation, to have a kitchen where they can cook for their kids, to have all of their family together without being squished in a hotel room, to be able to entertain themselves without spending a fortune going out,” Kylie, whose family rents out their large Edmonton home to supplement their income.
“I think we’re providing a great service,” she said.
“I’d like them to see the good it’s actually doing for the city. People are actually coming to Edmonton to stay in our house. We have people telling us, ‘We’ve got a family reunion that we’re setting up. We wanted to find somewhere that all of us could fit and use your swimming pool and have good time together.’ So they come out and now they come out every year,” Kylie said.
“They’re providing business for the local pizza places. We’re providing business to the contractors who do the lawns, that do the snow. There’s two mothers who do the cleaning for us.
“We’re providing a lot of opportunities for people, but most of all, the opportunity to see what a great city Edmonton really is.”
Jeff McCammon says his Brander Gardens home is across the street from a property that’s advertised as a 16-plus rental.
“This is not their home,” he said. “This is strictly a piece of real estate that they bought to operate as a hotel.
“It’s used for conventions, for people to stay and avoid having to buy individual hotel rooms, sometimes 20-plus people stay there.
“The number of cars out there — we’ve counted over 20. The stripper buses that come along taking people to stags, is constant, as is the traffic,” McCammon said.
Kylie argues traffic and parking are not issues and her property follows all the bylaw requirements.
“There has never been a police call for excessive noise. That’s because our neighbours know if they called the police, they would come out here and discover a big lot of nothing.”
She said she’s even provided her neighbours with her phone number in case there is a problem with a renter.
“I live 10 minutes from here. I’m actually renting a place myself so we can rent this place out on Airbnb so if there is an issue, I’m out here in 10 minutes.
“We have a two-car garage, we have a driveway that fits two cars. Outside of our house alone, you can easily fit three cars. And, in the unlikely event that they’re going to need more space than that, this is a large street, very wide, and everybody on this street has garages. There’s never been a parking issue on this street,” she said, adding Edmonton bylaw has distributed rules and regulations about short-term rentals to residents.
“They’re very clear: parking on the street is public.”
Kylie said her family home is a large one that can comfortably sleep 15 people but it’s not a party house. Most of the groups that rent the space are families, multi-generational, she says, travelling for reunions or weddings.
Councillor Aaron Paquette said the city would still like to get more information on all sides of this debate before making an informed decision.
“We’re getting there. The situation of people who are renting out homes that they don’t reside in is a real issue. We’ve heard stories from neighbours and people who are concerned about it. But we’ve also heard stories of people who’ve had no issues.”
Paquette said a big concern he has as a municipal politician is that large corporations are making money off the city but not paying any taxes.
“It’s great for the folks that are renting out their Airbnb — they make their money, and I’ve heard from a lot of them, they don’t mind if they paid a little extra taxes — but the big corporation, Airbnb, is benefiting.
“They don’t pay municipal taxes, provincial taxes or even Canadian federal taxes.”
In a statement, Airbnb responded.
“It is troubling that the corporate hotel lobby is spending thousands of dollars advocating against allowing local Edmontonians benefit from the tourism industry and show visitors a more personal side of their city,” Alexandra Dagg wrote.
“The City of Edmonton passed new short-term rental regulations just three months ago and the responsible approach is to allow these regulations to be implemented and assessed before demanding the city spend public money to burden Edmontonians with more red tape.”
The mayor was asked about the challenges of regulating short-term rentals earlier this month.
“One new user fee I welcome from the province is an equitable levy on Airbnb properties,” Don Iveson said on Nov. 5. “I think if the city was in a position to collect fees as well, we’d be able to do stronger enforcement.
“At the end of the day, lodging is a provincial jurisdiction, so this might be one they have to take the lead on.
“This is an interesting example of something that’s regulated by other orders of government and then people come to the city, saying: ‘What can you do about it?’
“I think my answer would be, if the province is going to collect a new tax on it, the province can solve this problem. I don’t have the resources anymore,” Iveson continued.
“Any flexibility to take things like that on is diminished by the budget and the downloading we’ve experienced. Bylaw-related complaints we’ll take on, but lodging is a provincial responsibility, so go ask someone at the legislature.”
Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu said Thursday he has heard concerns but has not looked into it yet.
“I have heard it, not just from homeowners — from hotels and other interest groups as well. My sense is I don’t have all the information so I can’t really comment until I’ve had an opportunity to really review what is going on.”
When asked directly if he would look into the concerns, Madu said “it doesn’t hurt to always take a look at concerns that have been raised.”