Vancouver Airbnb hosts caught using fake licences

By Lisa Tanh

Several local Airbnb hosts have been caught abusing the City of Vancouver’s new short-term rental bylaws.

Concerned citizens took to Twitter to expose a number of hosts who are using one short-term rental business licence for multiple properties on Airbnb. Some hosts are using fake business licences[1], which locals confirmed using the city’s open data catalogue. The city’s open data catalogue is a list of active business licenses in Vancouver and can be found on their website[2]

One local, James, who asked to not use his legal name for privacy reasons, believes hosts are abusing the bylaws because the process of applying for a business licence “appears to be solely based on honesty and trust.”

“I think perhaps the ease of filling in the form and clicking through the questions has given hosts a sense of entitlement,” James said. “The process does stress the requirements of the bylaws, but from what we’re seeing by the hosts listing them, they aren’t respecting it or perhaps not even reading it.”

One host was discovered to be a realtor from Sutton West Coast, a major real estate brokerage, who later took down one of two listings after being exposed on Twitter[3] Another host was discovered to have five listings[4] which are all homes and advertised as “used only for Airbnb.” Other hosts appear to be listing homes that are not their principal residence. For example, one host said “I live close by and available 24/7,”[5] while another host said “only a phone call away but otherwise, I will be approximately 1-hour away.”[6]

On April 19, the city enacted their short-term rental bylaws[7] which states a host can only have one business licence and can only rent out their principal residence: a residential address where they live in for more than 180 days a year, receive mail and use on government records. Hosts that are found to be in non-compliance, including lying in their application, will have their licence suspended and will be subject to a fine of $1,000 per day.

To prevent hosts from abusing the bylaws, James recommends that the city asks hosts to provide their Airbnb profile as part of the application process or that the city creates an online database that asks hosts to update links to their listings.

“There’s clearly a problem with the entire process and they need to be worked out in a prompt manner,” James said.

ThinkPol asked the City of Vancouver if they will change the application process and what can be expected.

In an emailed statement, the city said: “The application form was designed to be a low barrier for operators to comply with new licensing requirements. The audit process together with citizen complaints and online tools will help identify enforcement actions.

As with any new policy or programs that the city implements, we will continue to monitor and evaluate how this operates and make adjustments as needed in the future.”

The city also said they will receive data from Airbnb and a third-party vendor to validate licences and listing information.

“Airbnb will provide a list of all Vancouver licences and associated addresses that short-term rent via their platform to the city on a quarterly basis. The city’s enforcement team will then cross-reference it with their licensing records to identify any illegal operators. Existing and new Airbnb hosts will be required to grant permission for Airbnb to share information with the city before they can list their rental.”

References   [ + ]