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Airbnb agrees to help Vancouver enforce new short-term rental rules

City officials say they expect about 5,300 of the current 6,600 Airbnb listings for Vancouver will be allowed to continue operating under the new bylaw.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The global vacation-rental company Airbnb has agreed to help the City of Vancouver enforce new rules for short-term rentals, which will see hosts blocked from registering unless they have a city business-licence number.

The company says the agreement, which comes as Vancouver and other cities crack down on Airbnb and similar services amid concerns they are hurting local housing markets, is a first in North America.

The new registration system will start April 19, when the city’s new bylaw on short-term vacation rentals is officially passed – one of Vancouver’s many new efforts to regulate housing as rents have increased, property prices have skyrocketed and vacancy rates have remained below 1 per cent in recent years.

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“It’s a big step we’re making. We’re going to give [the city] the tools to do enforcement,” said Airbnb public-policy director Alex Dagg, who was in Vancouver on Wednesday for a joint announcement with Mayor Gregor Robertson on the new bylaw and mechanisms.

City officials say they expect about 5,300 of the current 6,600 listings for Vancouver will be allowed to continue operating under the new bylaw.

Currently, the company only has a similar enforcement system in Portugal. It is also planning to introduce one for the province of Andalusia in Spain.

The agreement is a major step forward from Vancouver’s previous one with Airbnb, where it would have been up to city staff to monitor the site and ensure that hosts had a legitimate business licence.

“That’s a significant thing, that they got the company to agree to this,” said Karen Sawatzky, a Vancouver researcher who has focused on the city’s vacation-rental problem. “The city deserves credit for getting this far.”

She said the agreement also likely happened because of efforts in other cities, such as San Francisco, to regulate Airbnb, sometimes by going to court.

Ms. Dagg said Airbnb agreed to the new mechanism, which requires the company to take part in enforcement instead of leaving it to the city, because Vancouver officials set up an easy system for online registration.

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As well, she said Airbnb co-operated because city officials have made it clear “they really see the value of our service.”

Ms. Dagg also said it’s important for the dozen or so other rental platforms operating in the city to join Airbnb in complying with Vancouver’s new rules.

City staff have agreed that the home addresses of anyone with a licence will not appear on the city’s open data site. As a result, no address of anyone running a home-based business will appear on the database, as part of the change.

Mr. Robertson said the new agreement “is another way we’re making sure that our housing functions first and foremost as homes for people who live and work in Vancouver.”

Vancouver is one of dozens of cities around the world grappling with the revolution that Airbnb has caused by enabling people to lease short-term rentals to strangers. While hugely popular with users, Airbnb and other short-term vacation-rentals have wreaked havoc, decreasing housing for long-term renters, creating concerns for owners in strata buildings who worry they are turning into hotels, and undercutting local hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.

The city will only allow short-term rentals for spare rooms in an owner or renter’s principal residence, or for the whole unit while the owner or renter is away temporarily (on a vacation or other trip). Otherwise, no one will be allowed to rent out a whole house, condo, basement suite or laneway house as a vacation rental.

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New hosts who want to list as of April 19 will have to apply to the city for a business licence and post that number on their Airbnb application. The application won’t be processed if the number is missing.

People who are already registered as hosts will have until Aug. 31 to get their business licence.

Hosts will have to pay an annual $49 business fee and a one-time $56 application fee. They will also be required to post a fire plan, and have fire alarms and carbon-monoxide monitors on every floor, as well as educate their guests about local recycling, garbage and parking rules.

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