In Vancouver, online short-term lodging services like Airbnb and VRBO bring much-welcomed extra cash to homeowners trying to stay afloat in one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world.
User reviews are overwhelmingly positive and the City of Vancouver received fewer than 10 complaints about Airbnb in 2014.
But with hosts operating without business licences and against municipal bylaws, and strangers coming and going in private buildings, some strata corporations, landlords and neighbours are looking to crack down on short-term rentals.
David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC, said that in the past year a few dozen landlords have come forward with issues related to renters subletting their suites to short-term rentals.
“They’re finding their tenants doing it on a regular basis,” he said.
“In terms of the tenancy agreement that our members use, they’re not permitted to sublet their apartment without any prior written consent.”
Hutniak said LandlordBC is encouraging its members to watch out for such prohibited use of their properties.
Short-term rentals add administrative expenses and security risks for strata corporations, said Sean Ingraham, director of business development for FirstService Residential.
While “temporary renters can be pleasant and conscientious,” increased visitor traffic “decreases the biggest security asset a strata corporation has, which is neighbours knowing each other,” Ingraham said.
FirstService has clients who have moved to ban short-term rentals, passed small move-in fees for furnished rentals or are waiting to see how the city regulates such rentals, but Ingraham said the best approach would be finding solutions that benefit all owners in a building.
Jason Kurtz, vice-president of Stratawest Management, said prohibition of short-term rentals has become a hot topic at strata council meetings lately.
“I think there’s a perception that short-term rentals tend to add more wear and tear to the building, that there’s more of a security concern with people who don’t have a long-term commitment to the buildings,” he said.
“Greater turnover means more administration in terms of tracking keys and FOBs and usage of the facilities, and then I think there’s a big overarching concern as to whether or not it’s what’s good for the community.”
Kurtz said B.C.’s Strata Property Act gives strata corporations little power, beyond fines, to prevent the operation of short-term rentals.
Vancouver doesn’t appear to be enforcing a municipal bylaw prohibiting such rentals, either, he added.
Zoning bylaw 10.21.6 states: “No person shall use or permit to be used any dwelling unit for a period of less than one month unless such unit forms part of a hotel or is used for bed and breakfast accommodation.”
In an emailed reply to questions, the city said if it receives a complaint about a short-term rental violating the bylaw, it warns the property owner that such rentals are not an approved use.
The department doesn’t ticket or fine owners who contravene the bylaw, but owners who are ordered to cease operating a short-term rental and fail to comply could face prosecution and court-imposed fines.
Veronica Franco, a lawyer who specializes in strata law, regularly gets inquiries about banning short-term rentals.
Franco said that so far, most strata corporations haven’t faced specific issues, but many are working proactively by seeking legal advice on drafting new bylaws that specifically target short-term rentals.
Otherwise, she said, if a short-term rental host faces strata fines but continues to operate, the strata corporation could end up in court seeking a costly legal injunction.
Franco noted that hosts need to ensure their insurance policies cover short-term rentals.
James Brander, an economist with UBC’s Sauder School of Business, said that for short-term rentals to be viable, strata corporations need to address how costs potentially incurred by hosts and users — such as security upgrades, theft and damage — affect the building as a whole.
“From an economic point of view, it’s really one of cost-shifting and having the people who are imposing the costs actually fully bear those costs,” he said.
“That would go a long way toward resolving the issue.”
Brander added that cities need regulatory standards and the ability to enforce them.
Airbnb is collaborating with some cities that are working to regulate the short-term rental business, such as Portland, Ore., which last summer legalized Airbnb rentals and began issuing $180 permits and conducting safety inspections of suites.
Victoria is also looking to partner up with the company and is considering taxing short-term rentals, according to a city council memo from last October.