Vancouver to hold public hearing on legalizing short term rentals

By Amy Chen

The City of Vancouver will hold a public hearing next Tuesday on a new bylaw that would legalize and regulate AirBNB and other short term rental operations, which are currently illegal in the city[1]

More than 50 people have so far signed up to speak on the proposed by-law, under which short term rental operators would be required to obtain a licence before marketing their units, and only offer such accommodations in their principle residence[2]

The operators would also be required to prominently display their business licence number in a conspicuous place when advertising their units or listing them on any short term rental platform.

They would also be required to post a fire safety plan by all entrances and exits, install fire alarms and fire extinguishers, and provide an emergency contact number.

The by-law calls for even more stringent healthy and safety restrictions for those offering short term accommodation in multifamily dwellings.

A City report in July of this year found that short term rentals were severely impacting affordability in Vancouver, a city with a rental vacancy rate of 0.8%.[3]

There are five times as many short term rentals units as there are long term rental units vacant, according to statistics from the report.

“With a current STR market of 5,927 units, and an annual pace of growth of more than 10%, the long-term rental market may be at risk if the STR market is left unregulated,” the authors of the report warned.

The report highlighted Vancouverites lack of faith in the City’s ability and willingness to enforce the existing by-laws.

“Stakeholders are generally pessimistic regarding the City of Vancouver’s ability to enforce
compliance in the STR market, and many commented that – even if the City can identify STR
Operators from their online advertisements (which is not always possible) – enforcement powers and processes would limit compliance measures,” the report stated. “Many stakeholders highlighted the City’s ongoing enforcement challenges with commercial STR operators and rental building operators, suggesting enforcement powers are weak even when the Operator is known and the suspected offenses are well-documented.”

The report notes that the city previously invited Vancouverites to comment on the perceived impacts of short term rentals via a Talk Vancouver online survey in July and August, 2016.

71% of the 6,475 individuals who completed the survey said felt short term rentals make it hard for Vancouverites to find “quality, affordable housing that is available to rent on the long term.”

76% of all respondents viewed protecting Vancouver’s rental stock should be the City’s first priority.

Independent researchers have also warned that Airbnb stands in the way of achieving Mayor Gregor Robertson’s stated goal of making housing more affordable for Vancouverites.

“In light of Vancouver’s chronically low vacancy rate, the percentage of renters who are currently stretching to afford their housing, the costs and time involved in constructing new rental housing, the financial incentives built-in to short-term rentals and the competition for housing that Airbnb sets up between tenants and tourists, it seems clear that the number of housing units being used for short-term tourist purposes poses an obstacle to city achieving its ambitious goals of ensuring that people of all incomes, ages, abilities and family types can find housing near where they work, or in the areas where they have set down roots and built social connections,” Simon Fraser University’s Karen Sawatzky noted in her Master’s thesis[4]

[Photo Credit: Alper Çuğun]

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