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Airbnb cuts 130 Vancouver listings that appear to be commercially owned

Airbnb has removed 130 listings from its site in Vancouver that look as though they belong to commercial operators.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Airbnb has removed 130 listings from its site in Vancouver that look as though they belong to commercial operators, according to a recent letter received by the city.

It's the latest move in Vancouver from the giant international company, as it lobbies to prove that Airbnb is an economic boom to the local economy and a responsible corporate citizen in advance of new city regulations for short-term rentals expected to be introduced in January.

"Airbnb has pro-actively removed more than 130 listings from our platform in Vancouver that we believe belong to commercial operators and do not meet the standards and priorities of our community, nor the guest experience we seek to provide," said the short letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson from Alex Dagg, Airbnb's public-policy head in Canada.

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Read more: Airbnb brings Vancouver millions in economic benefits: study

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That echoes a move that Airbnb made in New York just this July and in San Francisco this October.

In New York, the company dropped around 2,200 listings as the state was considering legislation that would make it illegal for any host to have multiple listings.

At the time, it issued a statement saying "Airbnb strongly opposes illegal hotels and continues to remove listings that appear to be controlled by commercial operators and do not reflect Airbnb's vision for our community."

In San Francisco, the company said last month that it had been removing commercial listings since April and that it was coming up with a mechanism to bar people who appear to have multiple listings.

But, in Vancouver, both the company letter and the city councillor who has been leading the charge against short-term rentals that affect the housing market acknowledge that those hosts could just move to another of the 13 platforms that operate in Vancouver.

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"I'm glad [Airbnb is] taking action but it underlines the need for city regulations so they don't pop up elsewhere," Councillor Geoff Meggs said.

And while he said he appreciated Airbnb's efforts, the company does not appear to have provided information to the city about who the 130 hosts were.

That means it's difficult to know whether they are then re-emerging on other sites.

Until recently, Airbnb was the only company talking to the city about its operations. Recently, VRBO, another large operator that also runs HomeAway, has sent a representative to talk to the city, Mr. Meggs said.

The latest Airbnb move is also difficult to interpret when it comes to understanding whether the company has eliminated all commercial-type listings.

Mr. Meggs said the city had identified about a dozen hosts who had 10 or more listings apiece.

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In previous reports, the city has said about 1,000 listings appeared to be for apartments rented out year-round. And Airbnb has said that its data show about 320 listings pull in enough money to more than replace average long-term rental income.

The city has become increasingly aggressive in its actions against some types of short-term rentals, at the same time that staff have proposed allowing them to be legal in people's principal residences.

Last month, the city got an injunction against one host operating a unit in Fairview to get the company to remove the listing. It has also arm-wrestled privately with a half-dozen other operators, some of whom had entire apartment buildings with units rented out short-term only.

Currently, the city's bylaws do not allow anyone to rent out a unit for less than 30 days, except for hotels and licensed bed-and-breakfasts.

Staff have proposed allowing short-term rentals for people who live permanently in a house or apartment, but want to rent out a room or their whole home while they are out of town. Those people would have to get licences and possibly pay a tax equivalent to what hotels and B&Bs pay.

People wouldn't be allowed to rent out their basement suites or laneway houses, however, on a short-term basis.

Vancouver is one of dozens of cities in Europe and North America grappling with what to do about the enormously popular short-term rental platforms that have provided tourists with cheaper places to stay and homeowners or renters with extra income.

The biggest concern for many cities, especially New York and San Francisco, is the way that vacation-rental market is removing desperately needed housing for long-term renters.

Airbnb, the biggest operator of the 13 in Vancouver, has about 5,000 current listings. According to information it has released in the past, more than 8,000 people will list during a single year.

It has produced reports recently saying that the vast majority of people renting make about $6,500 a year on average.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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