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Coalition urges Airbnb to ban ‘ghost hotels’ in Toronto as bylaw faces legal challenges

The lobby group that led the charge against Airbnb in Toronto says the short-term rental website should agree to voluntarily implement the city’s proposed new rules, even while they are hung up in legal challenges.

The new regulations, approved by Toronto City Council last December, were supposed to come into effect June 1 and would ban anyone from renting out a home, or part of a home, that was not their principal residence for less than 28 days. Platforms such as Airbnb and the hosts who use them would have to be licensed and pay fees.

However, the rules could be put on hold for months. Four people who rent multiple properties out via Airbnb-type websites have challenged the bylaw before the province’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (formerly known as the Ontario Municipal Board) and a hearing is not scheduled until the last week of August. A decision could come weeks or months after that.

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On Monday, Fairbnb, a coalition supported by the hotel industry’s main union, said Airbnb should agree to purge its Toronto listings of any “commercial operators” with multiple listings, even before the legal challenge is heard and the bylaw is implemented. They point to Vancouver, where the company recently voluntarily agreed to toss hosts that have not registered under that city’s new rules.

Thorben Wieditz, a spokesman for the Fairbnb, said some downtown condo residents are already dreading another summer “hotelling season” without restrictions on Airbnb-type listings: “People are not really looking forward to Blue Jay games and all kinds of other activities and festivities in the city where they know their buildings will be overrun with people that come to party.”

Airbnb spokespeople declined to speak to The Globe and Mail on Monday, saying they were travelling. In an e-mail, the company’s Lindsey Sculley said the city has not warned it of any delay and that Airbnb was still working toward a June 1 launch date.

“We’re aware of the challenges, but we’re not going to speculate on a delay, when the city has told us they are continuing to work towards that June 1 date. Our host community is eager to comply with the city’s rules – not the wishes of a well-funded hotel industry front group,” Ms. Sculley said in an e-mail.

City officials say they, too, are still working toward a June 1 date, in case the legal cases can be settled. But Carleton Grant, a senior official in the city’s licensing department, said the city may have to decide that things are officially on hold as early as next month if those challenges are not resolved.

The idea behind the new rules was to curb the growth of so-called “ghost hotels,” or the increasing number of units in downtown condos or entire homes in certain neighbourhoods that have been turned into permanent Airbnb-style rental accommodation. The city’s rules followed charges from critics that the lure of quick Airbnb cash sucks units out of the city’s notoriously tight conventional rental market, something Airbnb disputes.

Downtown city councillor Joe Cressy, a frequent critic of Airbnb, said Airbnb and other similar services should implement the new regulations, even if they remain stalled at the tribunal.

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“They know they are coming anyway. And if they are committed to working with the city and supporting housing affordability in this city, then they should do the right thing and implement them right away,” Mr. Cressy said. “There’s nothing stopping them.”

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