A landlord in Vancouver is calling on the provincial government to tighten regulations for short-term rentals after he was surprised to find his tenant was illegally listing his suite on Airbnb.
David Wojtowicz says he got an email from his building manager last January that said there was an illegal short-term rental taking place in the furnished one-bedroom suite he was renting out for $3,000 a month in the trendy Olympic Village neighbourhood.
Wojtowicz discovered that his tenant had removed all of his possessions and had listed the suite on Airbnb. The building's ownership prohibits short-term rentals, with a penalty of $1,000 per day for infractions.
After struggling with both the City of Vancouver and Airbnb to have the operation shut down, Wojtowicz wants the province to institute stricter laws for short-term rental operators, to verify their listings are operating legally.
"There's an entity, Airbnb, that's just kind of floating there as a kind of black market, underground facilitator of illegal short-term rentals," Wojtowicz told CBC News.
"There's some fixes that really should happen."
On Friday, the province reiterated that it will introduce legislation to address concerns about short-term rentals in the fall session.
"Local governments need additional tools to address challenges related to compliance and enforcement of local bylaws governing short-term rentals, and we're delivering on those needs," Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said in a written statement.
'The apartment was a mess'
Wojtowicz says the problem started last January.
When he went to see what was happening in the suite after the call from the building manager, he says he found two British tourists who told him they had rented it for about $1,200 for a four-night stay.
"The apartment was a mess," Wojtowicz said.
Wojtowicz says the Airbnb listing had six reviews from the previous month when he found it. (Submitted by David Wojtowicz)
The tenant's possessions had been removed, Wojtowicz says, with only the owners' furniture remaining. The mattress was in the living room, clothes were hanging from the ceiling sprinklers and there were cigarette butts in the garbage.
When Wojtowicz and his husband found the listing on Airbnb, it already had six reviews from the previous month, and more bookings appeared to be scheduled. The listing was being managed by a short-term rental management company.
The tenant's lease, which Wojtowicz shared with CBC News, clearly states that no short-term rentals are allowed and the tenant must follow strata bylaws, which also do not allow short-term rentals.
'There's no teeth for anything'
Wojtowicz says he contacted Airbnb and the City of Vancouver about removing the listing, but neither were able to shut it down despite the couple's pleas that it was operating illegally.
He says the city and Airbnb deflected the blame elsewhere.
"There's no teeth for anything," he said.
Hefty new fines for illegal Airbnb operations went into effect in Quebec last month. (John MacDougall/Getty Images)
The City of Vancouver only allows short-term rentals if they are in a person's primary residence. Renters must have permission from their landlord and the strata in order to obtain a licence, which is required.
In response to inquiries from CBC News, the city confirmed that it advised the owner to reach out to Airbnb directly.
The city also said it has a dedicated short-term rental team "that takes a proactive approach to investigate any non-compliance with regulations." Those who violate the city's regulations may face fines of up to $1,000.
When Wojtowicz's husband contacted Airbnb, the company suggested he reach out to the company managing the listing.
"Airbnb is an online platform and does not own, operate, manage or control accommodations," a representative told him in an email.
In response to questions from CBC News, Airbnb said this was a private matter between a landlord and tenant, and enforcement lies with the City of Vancouver.
The company says it requires all hosts in Vancouver to provide a registration number, and it shares this data with the city on a monthly basis.
Province working to support municipalities
Wojtowicz says he changed the fobs and the locks to prevent future travellers from staying at the suite. The property was taken off Airbnb in late January.
The matter didn't go to adjudication at the Residential Tenancy Board until July, after which Wojtowicz says he settled privately with the tenant.
Wojtowicz says he's not against short-term rentals, but he would like to see more regulations to ensure they're operating legally.
He wants the province to implement laws like those recently passed in Quebec, which force companies like Airbnb to work with municipalities to verify that listings are licensed and legal.
On Friday, Kahlon said stories like these are heard "all too often in B.C." and the province is working to support municipalities to enforce compliance of local bylaws.