Skip to main content

Chris Lehane Airbnb's Senior Vice President of Global Policy and Communications takes a question from a journalist during a press conference in Toronto, on Wednesday, February 5, 2020. The company announced that it would introduce a 24/7 neighbourhood support hotline in Canada beginning Monday.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Airbnb will limit young Canadians’ ability to book unhosted homes in some areas in an attempt to curb unauthorized parties, like the one where three young men were killed in Toronto last Friday.

The policy change will prevent users under 25 from booking local listings for entire homes where no host is present, Chris Lehane, the head of global policy for Airbnb, announced on Wednesday.

“Three young men lost their lives on Friday night. Nothing we’re going to say or do will bring back those lives, but we’re certainly going to talk about what we should do from a responsibility perspective,” Mr. Lehane said at a Toronto press conference.

“For us it’s simply not good enough to say that, ‘Hey, we’re just merely a reflection, we’re a mirror onto larger societal challenges.’ For us, it’s incredibly important that we take a responsibility.”

The Friday-night shooting happened during a party in a downtown condo unit that was rented out through Airbnb. Those killed were aged 19, 20 and 21. Investigators have said two guns were found at the scene.

Although Airbnb hopes the ban will reduce the risks that come with unhosted properties, some people, such as Toronto City Councillor Joe Cressy, don’t believe the measure is enough. “If they were serious, they would immediately delist the 7,000 properties on their website that don’t comply with the city’s regulations,” he said.

In 2017, the City of Toronto passed a bylaw that bans short-term rentals in non-principal residences in an attempt to limit ghost hotels, or properties used only for short-term rentals. Because of legal appeals, the bylaws are not currently enforced, but the city has called on Airbnb to comply with them regardless, which the company has not yet done.

“We’re going to comply with them when they get implemented and come online,” Mr. Lehane said, indicating that the new measure announced on Wednesday was aimed at tackling what he saw as a separate issue.

Across the platform, there was an average incident rate of 0.03 per cent for property damage and 0.06 per cent for security issues, Mr. Lehane said. These incident rates increased by a “significant amount” for people under 25 renting in their own communities unhosted, he added.

The ban will not affect non-Canadian travellers under 25 booking trips in Canada, nor will it affect young Canadians’ ability to book unhosted Airbnb units outside of their communities. Young users with three or more positive reviews will be exempt from the ban, which comes into effect on Monday.

The company also announced that it would introduce a 24/7 neighbourhood support hotline in Canada beginning Monday. The initiative, which is already running in the U.S., will allow neighbours to flag concerns directly with Airbnb agents.

Airbnb plans to enforce the ban through the site’s existing booking process, which requires guests and hosts to go through various levels of authentication. Any suspicious accounts or inaccurate information will be flagged and reviewed.

“We are not going to be infallible,” Mr. Lehane said. “Undoubtedly, people will find ways to work around those systems. But our commitment is to being a responsible platform.”

But a coalition calling for stronger rules on short-term rentals said the new restrictions do not go far enough.

“The actual changes they announced amount to little when it comes to addressing community and neighbours’ concerns,” said Thorben Wieditz, a spokesman for Fairbnb Canada. He said the restrictions on younger users were unclear and potentially discriminatory. “Besides,” he added, “everyone has a friend that is 26 years old that can rent an apartment to throw a party.”

Mr. Lehane said the ban was backed by research specific to Canada and likened the change to how rental-car companies set age limits based on an understanding of safety risks.

With a report from The Canadian Press