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Ulrike Rodrigues says, two years ago, she discovered three units in her 60-unit condo building were being rented through Airbnb. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)
Ulrike Rodrigues says, two years ago, she discovered three units in her 60-unit condo building were being rented through Airbnb. (Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail)

Real estate

Vancouver urged to clamp down on Airbnb as low-cost housing dwindles Add to ...

The city is moving into high gear in its effort to deal with the proliferation of Airbnb, to the relief of many who say that the temporary-rental network is eating into Vancouver’s already stressed stock of low-cost housing.

“The number of complaints is starting to rise,” said Councillor Geoff Meggs, who is introducing a motion for next week’s city council meeting that will ask staff to accelerate and expand the scope of research they have already started.

“We want as quick a timeline as possible,” he said.

Mr. Meggs, along with housing advocates, other councillors and a new subgenre of Airbnb amateur investigators, have all witnessed a cascade of new concerns in recent months as Airbnb-type rentals keep expanding to new areas.

Data collected by two different researchers show that the number of listings in Vancouver grew from 2,900 at the end of 2014 to 4,728 by the end of 2015. About two-thirds advertise the rentals as a “whole unit” or “whole house.”

There are almost weekly stories in local media or on social media about students being turfed from rental housing so owners can rent out their rooms for the summer, strata councils trying to prevent Airbnb creep in their buildings and landlords alarmed to discover tenants are rerenting their units.

One apartment building on West 10th Avenue near City Hall has posted a sign in front spelling out that along with no smoking and no pets, there’s also “No Airbnb.” That’s because a young woman who had been renting an apartment in the building a couple of years ago moved in with her boyfriend elsewhere in the city and then started renting out the unit through Airbnb.

“The other tenants did not appreciate it,” said Dedee Gregory, whose boyfriend manages the building.

She said she’s not against Airbnb and plans to use the service to rent out a spare room in her house in Burnaby. Also, an apartment building across the street has an Airbnb unit.

In those cases, though, owners are present to ensure everything is running smoothly, Ms. Gregory said.

Ms. Gregory’s nuanced attitude is not uncommon in the conversations bubbling through the city. “We live in an extremely expensive city, and if renters need to rent out a room to make ends meet, I understand that,” said Alvin Singh, the chair of Vancouver’s recently created rental advisory committee.

On the other hand, he said, people on the committee are also troubled by the fact that renters looking for homes often have to line up in the dozens and compete, while thousands of units are being advertised on Airbnb.

“It’s clearly problematic.”

He, like others, welcomed the city’s move to push harder in doing more research and moving faster.

So did David Hutniak of Landlord BC. “We continue to urge the city to go down this path. We’re concerned about Airbnb, because we’re providers of long-term housing.”

A Simon Fraser University graduate student who has led the way locally in trying to research Airbnb’s impact said she also welcomes the move but worries that the city will be hamstrung by Airbnb’s refusal to provide cities with information.

“I’m skeptical that Airbnb is going to be willing to co-operate,” Karen Sawatzky said. “I’m wondering how are they going to collect this data.”

And a local advocate who has been pressing the city to take more action is hoping there will be results this time. “People are making the connection now between diminishing housing and the Airbnb listings, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the city’s policy and enforcement.”

Ulrike Rodrigues started campaigning for more enforcement two years ago, when she discovered by accident that three units in her 60-unit condo building near Vancouver Community College on East Broadway were being rented through Airbnb.

Now, the owner of those units is also renting out another seven of his units through the service.

“I reported those. A property inspector came out and he said he was told to take a soft enforcement approach because the city doesn’t have any policy,” Ms. Rodrigues said.

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