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Richmond, B.C. votes to ban short-term rentals after approving plan to regulate them

Councillors in Richmond, B.C., have voted to prohibit short-term rentals such as Airbnb, despite approving a plan less than a week earlier that would have regulated and legalized such services.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Councillors in Richmond, B.C., have voted to prohibit short-term rentals such as Airbnb, despite approving a plan less than a week earlier that would have regulated and legalized such services.

City council initially adopted a suite of regulations that would have licensed short-term rentals while only permitting them in an owner's primary residence. The proposed rules, which were set to go to public hearings, were intended to address complaints from neighbours while limiting the impact of such services on the long-term rental market.

But councillors voted unanimously on Monday to reverse course, instead prohibiting all short-term rentals aside from hotels, motels, B&Bs and other forms of accommodation that are already permitted. Councillors said they received a significant amount of negative feedback from the public.

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"We are aware of the negative impacts on our community," Mayor Malcolm Brodie said in an interview Tuesday. "We are dedicated to take actions to persuade the residents that we want to solve the problem."

The vote this week means online booking websites such as Airbnb or Vacation Rentals By Owners will only be permitted to list locations with existing bed-and-breakfast licences from the city. Otherwise, council said the city should enforce its existing zoning and business bylaws to target short-term rentals.

Vancouver is expected to adopt its own regulations to regulate Airbnb this month, prohibiting entire units from being rented out and requiring business licences. Vancouver has suggested the service has taken hundreds or thousands of traditional rental units off the market. Other cities in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada are also looking at the issue.

Airbnb, which accounts for 47 per cent of the short-term rentals in Richmond, said in a statement it is committed to working with municipal leaders across Canada to develop rules that support home sharing, but the statement did not directly respond to the decision by Richmond city council.

At the beginning of Monday's council meeting, eight people appeared before council to voice their concerns – all opposed to allowing short-term rentals.

Councillor Bill McNulty said he didn't support the proposal to legalize short-term rentals.

"We know people are complaining about this and people don't want this, then we should abandon this," Mr. McNulty told the council meeting.

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He said short-term rentals have aggravated the affordable-housing situation in the city and he argued legalizing short-term rentals would make the problem worse.

"You can just give [short-term operators] a fine and they will continue to do that," he said.

Councillor Harold Steves, who was the only member of council to vote against the proposals last week, echoed those concerns during Monday's meeting.

He noted that according to a report presented to city council, there were approximately 300 entire houses or apartments listed on Airbnb.

"If we follow the staff's recommendation [to regulate short-term rentals], which means we will allow those to be legal hotels, that means the 300 houses are taken off the market for long-term rentals," he said.

Councillors asked city staff to prepare a report on the city's B&B licensing system. The new proposal to prohibit all short-term rentals will be sent for public consultation.

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