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Airbnb says it’s on board with proposed rules for short-term rentals

Airbnb says it supports the idea of a registration system for short-term home rentals, one week after the City of Vancouver revealed its plan to regulate them.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Airbnb says it supports the idea of a registration system for short-term home rentals, one week after the City of Vancouver revealed its plan to regulate them.

Mayor Gregor Robertson and staff outlined a proposal last week that would restrict short-term rentals to homes that owners or renters live in most of the time and rent out only occasionally. Full-time listings in otherwise vacant homes, which have been blamed for taking long-term, stable rental housing off the market, would be prohibited.

Anyone renting short term would need to get a permit, post the number on the listing site and likely pay some equivalent of a hotel tax. Airbnb said last week it was reviewing the proposed rules.

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But Alex Dagg, public policy manager for Airbnb in Canada, told a committee meeting at Vancouver City Hall on Wednesday that her company applauds the city for "taking the first step toward formally legalizing in Vancouver."

Ms. Dagg said a registration system for hosts can be an effective tool and Airbnb wants to work with the city to ensure it gets it right.

"We believe it's important the system be not complicated, it needs to be easy to use, and fair," she said.

Ms. Dagg said regulations need to allow for "appropriate flexibility." She said Airbnb has worked with other cities with critically low vacancy rates and tailored policies to meet housing needs.

"We understand just how dire the situation is here in Vancouver," she said.

When asked after her remarks about the proposed prohibition on short-term rentals in otherwise vacant homes, Ms. Dagg said the vast majority of Airbnb hosts in Vancouver share their primary residences.

She said Airbnb will continue to work with Vancouver council over the coming months.

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Under the city's proposal, staff will not issue permits for condos or houses that are investment properties designed to be rented out to short-term vacationers.

Permits will also not be issued for basement suites or laneway houses, even if the owner lives full-time in the main part of the house.

The city's report on the new regulations says there were about 4,000 Airbnb listings in Vancouver for entire units in June of this year and it estimates about 1,000 of those could be prohibited under the new rules, potentially opening them up for long-term renters.

Airbnb has denied that its service is having a major effect on housing in Vancouver, suggesting that full-time listings that could otherwise be used as a long-term rental represent just a small fraction of its business.

Karen Sawatzky, a Simon Fraser University graduate student who released a report last year on Airbnb's impact in Vancouver, also spoke at Wednesday's meeting and said the company has "undermined tenants by providing property owners with a cash flow solution that is more lucrative and flexible than renting to long-term residents."

Ms. Sawatzky said council should take steps to limit the growth of short-term rentals in Vancouver.

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At the meeting, Ms. Dagg was asked by Councillor Adriane Carr about three lawsuits the company has filed against jurisdictions in California.

Ms. Dagg said the company was "deeply distressed" it had to take such action. She said the lawsuits were only filed as a last resort after extensive consultations.

She said the issues in the lawsuits involve legal liability and Airbnb has good relationships in most of the cities in which it operates.

Vancouver city staff will report back to council early next year with final recommendations on short-term rentals.

With a report from Frances Bula

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