Quebec government targets Airbnb ‘hosts’ for offering unlicensed accommodations

·National Affairs Contributor
Airbnb is a popular site with travellers looking for a cheap place to stay.

The Quebec government is joining the official backlash against Airbnb, the global online service that matches travellers with homeowners looking to make a little extra cash by renting out space to visitors.

The Canadian Press reports the province is investigating 2,000 Quebec residents who've rented out their homes for short-term stays without a permit.

Under provincial law, Quebecers can't advertise or rent out their homes on a regular basis for fewer than 31 days without registering with the government and forking over $250, CP said.

“The law and regulations on tourist establishments is clear on the subject,” Tourisme Quebec spokeswoman Suzanne Asselin told a Montreal radio station, according to CP.

“The law and regulations on tourist establishments is clear on the subject,” Asselin said, adding the crackdown is intended to ensure the safety of people visiting Quebec.

[ Related: How hedging your bets with Airbnb could cost you ]

Airbnb seems to inhabit a space somewhere between Craigslist and Hotels.com.

According to its web site, the San Francisco-based service was founded five years ago to connect people to "unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 33,000 cities and 192 countries." It boasts more than 250,000 "hosts." Its investors include actor Ashton Kutcher.

People offering their properties for stays must register with Airbnb, which handles the financial transaction and provides a $1-million guarantee to hosts against theft and property damage.

Gawker compiled reports of horror stories about homes rented via Airbnb being ransacked and of at least one scam where a traveller arrived at his destination only to find the person he'd been dealing with was not the actual homeowner.

Airbnb's site includes a page on responsible hosting that provides a long checklist of things would-be hosts should do, such as upgrading their insurance coverage, complying with local tax rules and various regulations regarding health and safety.

"When deciding whether to become an Airbnb host, it's important for you to understand how the laws work in your city," it says, adding it's working with governments around the world to clarify the rules covering short-term accommodation.

Whether hosts actually follow through is another question, and Airbnb adds this disclaimer, in small print:

"Please note that Airbnb has no control over the conduct of Hosts and disclaims all liability. Failure of Hosts to satisfy their responsibilities may result in suspension of activity or removal from the Airbnb website."

[ Related: Tourism CEO to Airbnb hosts: Get a licence ]

The service has raised the ire of the established hospitality industry, from hotels to licensed bed-and-breakfasts.

"It looks like the hotel industry is slowly waking up to threat Airbnb presents: 10 million people have paid cheap prices to stay in homes on Airbnb, and that's 10 million unbooked hotel rooms," said the web site Business Insider in its report of the Quebec initiative.

Once thought to be the equivalent of couch-surfing for the back-packing crowd, Business Insider said Airbnb in fact also offers high-end properties "often with better amenities than cookie-cutter hotel chains provide."

It noted other jurisdictions, including Michigan, Ontario and New Zealand feature home-rental agreements that bar renters from subletting without prior consent of the owner. That of course doesn't affect people who own their homes.

As the CP report noted, a New York court fined a man $2,400 last week because he illegally rented his apartment via Airbnb for less than the required 30 days and he wasn't home when the tourist was there.

A spokesman for Montreal's Bed and Breakfast Association told CP the hospitality industry is being hurt by Airbnb. The city has 102 registered B-and-Bs and homes certified for short-term rentals. That compares with 3,000 unregistered accommodations, said Patryck Thenevard.

Hotels and licensed B-and-Bs must pay taxes, insurance and registration fees, plus meet safety codes. Those costs make it hard to compete with private homes being rented out via Airbnb, said Thenevard.

Despite the tough talk, he doubted there would be a real crackdown.

"In reality, there's nothing that's happening," Thenevard told CP.

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