Prominent Vancouverites may be breaking the law running illegal Airbnb operations

By Amy Chen

A doctor, an engineer and a professor are among the prominent Vancouverites who appear to be breaking the law by running short term rentals on Airbnb.

While short term rentals are illegal under Vancouver’s by-laws[1], lax enforcement has seen them grow to the point where there are now five times as many short term rentals units as there are long term rental units vacant, according to a City of Vancouver report[2]

Diabetes specialist Dr Tom Elliott[3] has listed a three bedroom four bathroom house located close to Locarno Beach at $352 per night[4]

A UBC faculty member with over 60 published, Dr. Elliott is also the head of BC Diabetes, an organization “dedicated to providing excellence in diabetes care, research and education to all British Columbians.”

“When we are not staying at the Loghouse we are at our loft in Yaletown, in downtown Vancouver,” Dr. Elliott says on his Airbnb profile.

Dr. Elliott stands to make up to three times more by running an Airbnb operation than by becoming a landlord, as the long term rent for a similar house in the neighbourhood is around $5,000 month.

Engineer Ranbir Manj[5], who works as a Project Manager at BC Hydro, is offering a three-bedroom four-bathroom house for $192 per night[6]

Historical MLS records show that the South Vancouver property was on the market earlier this year for $2.5 million.

Simon Fraser University fine arts professor Rob Kitsos[7] is offering a four-bedroom four-bathroom house across the street from McDonald’s Park at $845 per night[8]

As the long term rent for a similar house in the community is around $4,000 month, Prof. Kitsos’s potential earnings as an Airbnb operator is six times great than what he would make as landlord.

A City-commissioned survey on short term rentals found that Vancouverites were strongly opposed to them[9]

71% of the 6,475 individuals who completed a survey felt that 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.

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[10]

Despite the strong opposition, the City is pressing a head with plans to legalize short term rentals.

More than 50 Vancouverites have signed up to speak at a public hearing scheduled take place next Tuesday on a proposed bylaw that would legalize and regulate AirBNB and other short term rental operations[11]

We have contacted all Airbnb operators featured in the article for comment, but have not yet heard back from any of them.

Update (20:30 on Oct 23, 2017)

We have heard back from Dr. Elliott.

“AirBnB contacted me Saturday afternoon to alert me to your article which I read with interest,” Dr. Elliott told ThinkPol in an email. “I was not aware that AirBnB was illegal: since reading the article have looked into getting a B&B licence from the city. It looks to be relatively straight-forward.”

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References   [ + ]

2, 9.