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Alex Dagg, who has Airbnb appointed to lobby governments about short-term rentals, is seen here in Vancouver July 16, 2016. (John Lehmann)
Alex Dagg, who has Airbnb appointed to lobby governments about short-term rentals, is seen here in Vancouver July 16, 2016. (John Lehmann)

Airbnb open to market regulations in large cities like Vancouver Add to ...

With growing threats of regulation in cities across Canada, Airbnb says it’s open to some restrictions tailored to tight rental markets like Vancouver’s, including banning hosts from using the popular online platform to run a business renting out multiple units.

Airbnb has hired Alexandra Dagg, a former union organizer and one of the lead negotiators for the National Hockey League Players’ Association during the 2012 lockout, to lobby governments across Canada in an effort to get ahead of the growing movement to regulate, restrict and tax the service.

She said a shifting approach with each city could mean the company might agree to outlaw those “professional” Vancouver hosts renting out multiple units listed on the site. A company report released earlier this month said 13 per cent of entire home listings in Vancouver last year were operated by hosts with four or more listings, with Airbnb saying some of these are boutique hotels.

RELATED: As usage rises, Airbnb denies its service is harming Vancouver rental market

“If the professional operator – however you define that – is a concern, then we’ll work with the city to figure out what’s the best way to regulate that,” she said.

Ms. Dagg says over the coming weeks, she will be meeting with bureaucrats and civic politicians across the country to make a case for how to best regulate rental units like the ones accessed through her service.

“We’ve grown fast and made some mistakes along the way as we’ve learned how to deal with cities, but right from the beginning … we’ve wanted to be good community partners,” she told The Globe and Mail in an interview.

“We want to be regulated, we want to be recognized, we want to talk through concerns.”

Last week, Ms. Dagg met with officials in Whistler and with Vancouver City Councillor Geoff Meggs, who has repeatedly said Airbnb’s 4,200 active hosts are having a negative impact on his city’s precarious rental-housing stock.

Ms. Dagg said the vast majority of Vancouver hosts are sharing their primary residences four or five nights a month – a company trend in most urban centres – but could not say how many units being rented on the platform are not typically occupied by a host.

Last month, Vancouver passed a motion that called on the province to collect hotel and provincial sales taxes from short-term rental websites, but the B.C. government did not provide a public response to the request. In Toronto, an interim report on the state of short-term rentals is expected at city hall later this year.

Airbnb has hired others like Ms. Dagg to engage governments across Europe and the United States as politicians are being forced to examine the role the service is having on housing affordability in their communities.

In 2014, Paris launched a high-profile crackdown on suspected short-term rentals. A Berlin law restricting the short-term rental of entire houses took effect earlier this year. And Airbnb late last month filed a lawsuit against its hometown of San Francisco, after the city passed an ordinance that could see local hosts that don’t register fined up to $1,000 a day per listing. New York State could soon pass a law making it illegal to advertise the use of any residence if it is not for permanent occupancy.

While Ms. Dagg engages politicians of every stripe, she will also be reaching out to Canada’s 50,000 hosts themselves. She has already met with two groups of politically minded hosts in Vancouver and Toronto, the two Canadian cities with the frothiest housing markets.

As well, the service has recently created 60 online clubs across the world for its hosts “to exchange experiences and ideas, as well as work to bring fair home-sharing policies to their communities.” So far, just two of these groups exist in Canada, with the online portal showing most of the clubs globally have only several members, if any.

On Friday, Airbnb published a post directing Vancouver-area hosts to take an online survey meant to gauge the public’s thoughts on how best to regulate a short-term rental market dominated by the company.

“For hosts, home sharing is an economic lifeline that provides the extra financial boost they need to pay the bills,” the company’s posting stated.

RELATED: British Columbia unveils new rules to limit real estate 'shadow flipping'

Ms. Dagg said Airbnb wouldn’t harness the power of its platform to push users to bombard local politicians with e-mails towing the company line. Fellow upstart company Uber has drawn criticism for bullying local governments in Virginia and New York City through mobilizing its tech-savvy customers to put pressure on authorities.

Ms. Dagg declined to comment on Uber’s tactics.

“We have our way, they have their way, just like any company has their [own] style,” Ms. Dagg said.

Mr. Meggs said last week’s meeting with Ms. Dagg was cordial and he looks forward to working with the company to create effective rules that protect the city’s rental-housing stock.

“[We have to] make sure that any regulatory regime is workable and just doesn’t leave people popping up on pirate sites or unregulated areas,” Mr. Meggs said.

Mr. Meggs’s colleague, Councillor Kerry Jang, said Airbnb should not get special treatment in his city and units should be taxed like any hotel.

“As far as I can tell, neither one are fundamentally different,” he said.

Tom Slee, the Ontario-based author of What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy, said that in some cities, the company has shown itself willing to pay levies similar to those hotels pay. However, lobbying hard against further taxation is one of the company’s top priorities.

“They have raised a couple billion dollars from investors, those investors want a return on their money,” he said. “And getting a return on their money requires Airbnb to successfully change laws.”

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