A shooting at a downtown Toronto condo building that left three men dead and two others injured has renewed calls for stricter regulations on Airbnb rentals and private residences being used as “ghost hotels.”
On Friday night, residents were left shaken after gunfire broke out on the 32nd floor of a building in Toronto’s CityPlace neighbourhood. Police identified the victims as Jalen Colley, 21, Joshua Gibson-Skeir, 20, and Tyronne Noseworthy, 19. The police said they are no longer looking for a suspect.
The shooting, which took place at an Airbnb unit, is the latest in a string of incidents associated with “Airbnb parties” in the recent past – and the subject of growing concern for regulators, who appear increasingly powerless to stop it.
In the year since Nathalie Beckershoff first moved into her condo at 85 Queens Wharf Rd., the site of Friday’s shooting, she said that she’s noticed an uptick in units used as short-term rentals and Airbnbs.
A search on the Airbnb website on Sunday yielded more than a dozen results for the complex, ranging in price from $50 to $200 a night. Several of the listings appeared to be offered by the same host. And over the course of an hour on Sunday morning, The Globe and Mail spoke with eight separate groups of people walking in and out of the building – many dragging their luggage behind them – who said they were staying in Airbnbs.
Ms. Beckershoff said that, in the past, the revolving door of visitors was mostly a minor annoyance, resulting in crowded elevators and confused tourists blocking the entrances.
But news of the shooting left her rattled – and questioning the safety of allowing Airbnb parties. “It’s just terrifying." she said. “This isn’t a hotel. It’s a place where people live.”
It’s an issue the local city councillor, Joe Cressy, says he hears about regularly. “Our office is inundated after every weekend with residents complaining about party suites in their condos,” he said.
“There’s no accountability when every weekend, you have a different group of people showing up to use what should be housing as a party suite.”
In the past year alone, violent incidents at Airbnb rentals in the Toronto area have included: a shooting at an Etobicoke “mansion party” in April; a shooting in August outside a party on the Bridle Path; and a December shooting outside an Airbnb party at a house near the Danforth. Just last month, a shooting at an Ottawa Airbnb left one man dead and three others injured.
In cities including Toronto, regulators such as Mr. Cressy have tried to put in place bylaws around the use of Airbnb. Toronto’s city council voted more than two years ago to only allow short-term rentals in a principal residence. It’s a bylaw that would have banned the city’s estimated 6,500 “ghost hotels” (properties being used primarily as short-term rentals) in Toronto.
But those efforts came to a halt after a series of appeals, first at Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) by a loose coalition of short-term rental landlords. In the meantime, the city’s efforts to stem the Silicon Valley behemoth and its growth in Toronto have been stalled.
After Friday’s shooting, the Queens Wharf building’s condo board decided to put in place its own ban on short-term rentals. But efforts by individual condo boards have, in the past, struggled with enforcing such rules.
Airbnb Canada spokeswoman Lindsey Scully said in a statement on Sunday that the company is “deeply saddened by the tragedy in Toronto" and co-operating with the police investigation. She added that Airbnb has in place its own rules against “open invite” parties (including events advertised on social media) and “large parties and events” in apartment buildings and condos.
In an e-mail, the lawyer representing the landlords in the LPAT appeal, Jason Cherniak, said that his clients are local business people who “take security very seriously.” He pointed to a number of safety measures many of them have in place, including technology to monitor noise levels in their units, and rules against parties.
And one short-term rental host, Paul Nedoszytko, who has been renting out the basement of his Scarborough house for the past six years, emphasized that the problem is much bigger than any one online platform.
“Gun violence in our city has occurred not just in isolated Airbnb listings, but in every other place in the city,” he said. “Gun violence has no barriers as to where it occurs.”
Still, for Samoya Ricketts and her friend Sydni Singler, who travelled from Michigan to Toronto for the weekend to celebrate Ms. Singler’s 22nd birthday, the experience has turned them off of Airbnb for good.
After going to dinner Friday night, they returned to the Airbnb they had rented in the same Queens Wharf building to find more than a dozen police cars outside, and an active crime scene.
By Sunday morning, they were standing outside the building with their suitcases packed. “My parents are freaking out. … Coming [to Toronto], we thought it would be a relaxing, safe space” Ms. Ricketts said. “I’m only staying in hotels from now on.”