Vancouver's new regulations on short-term rentals are doomed to failure if the city doesn't require Airbnb and other agencies to police and remove illegal listings from their sites, say local rental-advocacy groups.
"Without platform accountability measures, we predict Airbnb will continue its feast on Vancouver's rental housing market," says a report being released on Tuesday by the group.
"No measure of goodwill or talk is going to avoid this scenario, unless Airbnb and other short-term rental companies are made to retool their platforms to effectively enforce the city's own rules and regulations."
The report, prepared by the advocacy group Fairbnb.ca, is being endorsed by a diverse collection of associations, from Landlord BC, which represents the province's landlords, to two tenants' rights organizations, the union representing hotel and restaurant workers and a housing association that fights for improvements for younger generations.
Vancouver city staff have proposed a set of rules governing short-term rentals, which are due to be debated in a public hearing this fall. The move comes after several years of rising concern about the city's housing crisis, coupled with statistics indicating as many as 6,000 Airbnb rentals are listed in the city, and stories of apartments being emptied so landlords can rent them out through agencies such as Airbnb.
The new rules, if approved, would allow owners or renters to list their homes on short-term rental sites, as long as they are living there. So owners could rent out a bedroom or the entire house if they were out of town temporarily.
They could not rent out their laneway homes or basement suites.
And owners who turn apartments or homes into full-time rental sites that are run like commercial operations would be completely forbidden.
Prospective hosts would have to get a business licence and pay a small fee that would go toward the administration of the short-term rental regulation program. They would be expected to display their city permit number on their listing. But it would be up to the city to check whether that is being done and whether the number is valid, according to policy that's developed so far.
The new regulations would go into effect next April.
But the Fairbnb report notes that Vancouver staff don't have any plan to require the short-term rental companies to drop anyone without a city permit.
Instead, staff documents talk about holding meetings with vacation-rental companies and setting up memorandums of understanding (MoUs) to get their co-operation on regulating rentals.
The report says those MoUs don't work.
"MoUs disempower government authorities in exchange [for] promises that come cheap and have not curtailed the dramatic increase of illegal listings."
It noted that in cities that haven't required Airbnb or other vacation-rental companies to police their own sites, illegal listings have continued to rise. That includes places such as Berlin and Amsterdam, which have otherwise set fairly stiff regulations.
"Developing MoUs with Airbnb allows government authorities to gain some positive media headlines about 'tackling' Airbnb-related problems in the short-term, but in reality it does little but to exacerbate already existing problems," the report says.
"For Airbnb, MoUs present an opportunity to make public statements about 'co-operating' with government authorities, while being absolved of any real responsibility or accountability."
The report notes that San Francisco, after going through a court battle with Airbnb over the issue, did succeed in its requirement that Airbnb delist anyone without evidence of city permission.
That proves that companies have the capacity to do that kind of monitoring, the report says.