Saskatoon has a rental vacancy rate of more than 10 per cent. It's not one of Canada's major tourist destinations.
So Airbnb-type platforms for short-term rentals are not wreaking any immediate havoc on the city. But Saskatoon has decided to study how to regulate those rentals anyway, to be on the safe side.
"Maybe at this point, it is not necessarily a housing issue but it could be some day," said Jo-Anne Richter, Saskatoon's manager of business licence and bylaw compliance. Saskatoon's handful of bed-and-breakfast operators were the main group with concerns, saying they wanted to see a level playing field.
"I think there's some room for these [short-term accommodations] but it's figuring out how best to regulate," said Ms. Richter, whose city just finished conducting public consultations on the issue.
Saskatoon is not the only unexpected site of wariness about short-term vacation rentals. The issue has popped up in St. John's, Calgary, Winnipeg and even the very suburban District of North Vancouver.
And many more besides the two cities that have moved the fastest to regulate them, with Vancouver in the lead, having passed new rules last week, and Toronto about to pass a set of regulations next month after lengthy massaging in committee.
The technology-fuelled phenomenon of people renting out their houses and apartments to visitors – there are more than 70,000 Airbnb hosts in Canada – is washing into communities all across the country, prompting many city councils to struggle over what to do about it.
Technically, it's illegal – almost all cities have regulations saying that rentals in residential areas must be for 30 days or more. But no one, to this date, has attempted an outright ban. And even ardent opponents don't recommend that.
Instead, cities are tinkering with business licences, tourism taxes, limits on days rented, charges to the platforms operating in the city or fines for those not displaying a business-licence number and other strategies.
"A lot of experimentation is going on," says Thorben Wieditz, a researcher with the hotel-workers union that has been one of the main monitors of the issue in Canada.
Quebec is the first province to have set rules, requiring hosts to meet the same standards as hotel and bed-and-breakfast operators and to pay the same 3.5-per-cent lodging tax.
In Vancouver, hosts will have to pay for a business licence, at $49, and a small tax equivalent to the local hotel tax. But they'll be fined $1,000 if they don't display their business-licence number on their site, the mechanism that Vancouver has chosen to deal with the difficult problem of regulation.
Both Vancouver and Toronto have agreed that homeowners can rent out spare rooms in their homes or their principal residences for brief periods, but they can't turn their secondary suites or investment properties into vacation rentals.
Toronto is the first Canadian city that is looking at holding the platform to account, by requiring each platform to pay a $5,000 fee for a licence and $1 every night for each booking.
Besides the large, tourist-attracting cities, resort areas, from Tofino and Revelstoke in B.C. to Canmore in Alberta to the Blue Mountains north of Toronto, are also struggling with the issue. Revelstoke now requires anyone wanting to operate a short-term-vacation rental to come to council for a rezoning.
There are many other cities lined up to regulate behind Vancouver and Toronto, including Ottawa, Victoria, Hamilton and others seeing spillovers of the short-term vacation rental trend from the larger cities into their areas.
"It starts in the large centres and then radiates out from there," Mr. Wieditz said. "We get these kinds of calls and e-mails from other cities."
Even once-placid suburbs have found themselves forced into action.
"It is a concern in our community," said Richard Walton, the mayor of the District of North Vancouver, a mostly executive suburb that sprawls across the lower slopes of the Coast Mountains.
Staff there have determined that the district has about 600 short-term-vacation listings. There aren't a lot of complaints coming from residents, Mr. Walton said, but it's something the district is concerned about anyway.
"That's 600 people who are augmenting their income but not contributing anything to wear and tear on the neighbourhood," he said.