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Vancouver to limit short-term Airbnb rentals in bid to free up housing

Condo towers are seen in downtown Vancouver.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Vancouver has become the first major city in Canada to regulate short-term housing rentals such as Airbnb, a move the mayor hopes will yield more long-term rental housing in a city with a vacancy rate close to zero.

Vancouver city council voted on Tuesday to restrict short-term rentals of suites that are not principal residences. Of the 6,000 short-term rentals listed in Vancouver across multiple home-sharing websites, the city has estimated at least 1,000 are not principal residences and could be freed up for long-term renters.

"We want to be sure we get as many of those back into long-term rentals as possible," Mayor Gregor Robertson said after the vote.

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The 7-4 vote followed a heated debate with some councillors warning some homeowners would be unable to pay their mortgages without the added income from Airbnb.

Mr. Robertson described the city's approach as "balanced." He said it would free up more long-term rental stock but also recognize those who rely on extra income from short-term rentals in their own homes.

The new regulations will come into effect on April 1. Hosts must buy a business licence that costs $49 annually, plus spend $54 on a one-time application fee and display their licence number in the online listing. Those who fail to comply will face a $1,000 fine per violation.

The new rules ban short-term rentals of entire apartments or houses where the person listing it does not live. Basement apartments and laneway houses that could otherwise be rented out to long-term tenants cannot be listed as short-term rentals.

Owners and renters would be allowed to list a room in their apartment or house, or rent out the entire unit while they're away, for example on vacation.

Alex Dagg, public-policy manager for Airbnb in Canada, said Vancouver is the first major city in this country to regulate home-sharing. She said other Canadian jurisdictions that have regulated short-term rentals include the province of Quebec, as well as B.C. communities such as Whistler and Tofino.

Toronto is proposing rules similar to Vancouver, restricting short-term rentals to primary residences and introducing a licensing system.

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While Ms. Dagg said Airbnb applauded Vancouver's move and thousands of the city's families would be able to continue using the service, she raised concerns about the effects on others.

"Unfortunately, they have excluded groups of residents in Vancouver from being able to continue to home-share," she told reporters at City Hall.

Allan Oas, a retiree who has been an Airbnb host for three years, said he has rented out a basement suite that was built for his sons and was never in the long-term rental pool.

He said the money raised through short-term rentals has helped him make ends meet.

"It's going to go away, perhaps. We'll see what happens," he said after the vote.

Councillor Andrea Reimer, who like Mr. Robertson is a member of Vision Vancouver, told council the city was in need of a clear policy on short-term rentals.

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Ms. Reimer said she learned Monday she was being evicted for the second time in 16 months. She said the eviction was due to "speculation and flipping" and she has now been evicted 11 times in the last 20 years.

"There's lots of us looking for places to live and many of us are quite good tenants," she said ahead of the vote.

Kerry Jang, also a Vision councillor, told council the new regulations serve as a good start and will help manage a situation that had grown unmanageable.

Councillor George Affleck of the Non-Partisan Association, whose four members voted against the new regulations, said homeowners who depend on the extra income would be forced to leave Vancouver or lead "very challenging lives."

"We're just creating more bureaucracy, more taxation, more sticks and we're not solving the problem. We're making Vancouver more unaffordable and a harder place to live, whether you're a renter or an owner," he told council.

Councillor Melissa De Genova, also of the NPA, predicted the new regulations would not lead to more units ending up in the long-term rental market.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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