Airbnb launches 'last-ditch effort' to rally Ottawa hosts

Airbnb has been rallying its Ottawa hosts to turn up the heat on city councillors voting Wednesday on a new bylaw restricting short-term rentals. 

In an email headed "Protect short-term rentals in Ottawa," Airbnb asks its hosts to send a pre-written letter to councillors and the mayor urging them to "go back to the drawing board and bring forward a proposal that reflects a smart and forward-thinking approach to regulating home-sharing."  

"We encourage city councillors to listen to the concerns raised by their local community and ask city staff to revise their report," Airbnb's Alexandra Dagg added in an email to CBC.

Earlier this month, dozens of Airbnb hosts attended a meeting at city hall to try to convince members of the city's community and protective services committee to ditch new regulations recommended by city staff, but the committee ultimately voted 5-3 in support of the bylaw.

On Wednesday, those rules go before council for a final vote.

Kate Porter/CBC

A city-wide issue

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he's received the missive from hosts.

"This feels like a last-ditch effort by some to reaffirm their objections to the report," said Fleury, who supports the idea of a permit system restricting short-term rentals to primary homes and rural vacation properties.

Three councillors voted against the regulations at committee: Matt Luloff, Stephen Blais and Eli El-Chantiry, all representing suburban or rural wards.

Fleury noted councillors representing the urban core, which has the highest concentration of short-term rentals, support the recommendations.

He's urging his colleagues to think of it as a city-wide issue.

"It might not affect every community in the same way, but that's why we're asking them to wear their city council hat, not simply consider their own neighbourhood," Fleury said.

Airbnb email

Not all hosts showing support

Not everyone who received the Airbnb email will be joining in the plea.

Jason Yung received the email this week and decided to flip the message around, changing the subject line to "FULLY SUPPORT proposed regulations to RESTRICT AIRBNB in Ottawa."

Yung, who owns a condo in the ByWard Market, said a tenant converted his unit into a "ghost hotel."  

Yung said Airbnb refused to intervene when it was clear the tenant was advertising on the site without his permission, and despite restrictions in the lease and condo rules.

Giacomo Panico/CBC

"Unfortunately, as an online platform, Airbnb is not privy to the offline agreements you may have made, so we are unable to mediate or assist," the company told Yung.

Yung welcomes the new regulations, and said he hopes they'll be adequately enforced when either hosts or renters break the rules.