Airbnb landlords using fake license numbers on Montreal short-term rentals
Despite promises, Airbnb is still hosting short-term rentals that are probably not legally registered with the Corporation de l'industrie touristique du Québec (CITQ).
While listings without a license number no longer show availability, several hosts have entered the same registration number to get around the restrictions, according to data from the monitoring site Inside Airbnb,
As of Thursday afternoon, different advertisers in Montreal still offered 29 homes bearing the license number "123456" in different areas of the city.
But the numbers the CITQ assigned to owners who wish to rent their main residence for the short term are unique, and the "123456" license doesn't appear on the Bonjour Québec website, where all the tourist accommodation establishments in the province are listed.
Airbnb pledged last Friday to disable non-compliant listings and add a mandatory registration field to force hosts to register their certification number. The new rule was put in place Tuesday.
Radio-Canada found that the multinational company does not check whether the registration number provided corresponds to an existing license. Radio-Canada even managed to create a 30th advertisement bearing the number "123456."
The CITQ database, however, is not public.
Up to the province to enforce legislation
Airbnb refused an interview with Radio-Canada Thursday.
In an email, it pointed out that Quebec issues the CITQ number directly to hosts and not to Airbnb.
"As such, it is the responsibility of the province to enforce its legislation," said a spokesperson for Airbnb, pointing to its "portal of cities" available to the government to facilitate monitoring of host compliance.
Half of the ads are gone
The mandatory registration field to force owners to enter their tourist license number nevertheless seems to have had an effect on the quantity of accommodation offered on Airbnb's platform.
In Montreal, for example, the most recent data from Inside Airbnb shows that the amount of listings fell from 14,289 to 6,987 from March 16 to 29, a drop of over 50 per cent.
But the numbers could climb again in the future if hosts continue to be able to list any license number, according to Inside Airbnb founder Murray Cox.
"Based on what has happened before in other cities, we expect this fraudulent use to increase as hosts attempt to return to Airbnb," he said.
Inside Airbnb and the coalition of housing committees and tenants' associations of Quebec (RCLALQ) call on the Legault government to act without delay to tighten the legislation to prevent this.
Quebec, they argue, must "urgently move forward to hold platforms like Airbnb accountable for the legality of properties displayed on their site" — something Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx already promised to do, despite the commitment made by Airbnb last week.
RCLALQ is concerned about seeing Quebec's rental stock being transformed for tourist purposes when there is a housing crisis. According to the results of extensive research made public on Monday, Airbnb offered nearly 30,000 rental units across the province last month.
Minister praises Airbnb's efforts
The debate over short-term rentals has been reignited in recent weeks after the fire that killed seven people in a heritage building in Old Montreal — where most units were rented through Airbnb.
"There is still an effort that has been made this week, which I welcome, but I'm staying firm on my intentions to modify regulations as soon as possible, that is before the end of the parliamentary session," said Proulx at the National Assembly.
The tourism minister is aware that some owners use bogus license numbers. In a statement sent to CBC, the ministry also claimed to have noted that "several platforms [do] the promotion of accommodation without a number or with a false registration number."
"We are trying to find all these cracks to have a bill that we will present as soon as possible," said a statement from Proulx's office.
Adopted in 2021, the law on tourist accommodation requires owners to get a license to rent their accommodation on a short-term basis. Rentals of 31 nights or more, which many advertisers on Airbnb seem to have turned to, fall under another legal framework.
Some municipalities also prohibit short-term rentals on part or all of their territories, but these regulations remain largely ignored, both on Airbnb and other digital platforms.