Council approves new Airbnb, landlord rules

Council approves new Airbnb, landlord rules

Ottawa city council approved a pair of regimes Wednesday that will both curb the proliferation of Airbnb-style short-term rentals and crack down on problem landlords in the traditional rental market.

The new rules, which will limit short-term rentals to principal residences or vacation residences, won't take effect for about a year because bylaws need to be crafted and approved.

As it stands, Airbnbs and other short-term rentals are technically operating illegally in Ottawa.

Mayor Jim Watson argued no one buys a home in a neighbourhood expecting to have a party house next door with a rotating cast of strangers.

'What's evolved is that this has become a big money-maker for a lot of people.' - Mayor Jim Watson

"I think when Airbnb first started, the premise was pretty clear: if you're away for a couple of weekends a year, you rent out your place. What's evolved is that this has become a big money-maker for a lot of people," Watson said.

Airbnb pans rules as too strict

During a 10-hour meeting on Nov. 15, an Airbnb representative told councillors the platform has 4,600 listings in Ottawa, where hosts earned $36 million in the past 12 months.

Several of those hosts were among the 60 people who made presentations to the committee, but on Wednesday, Airbnb lamented they'd been ignored.

"Today, city council chose to go against these concerns and the recommendations put forth by their own consultants in favour of a series of rules that will unfairly restrict some responsible Ottawa residents from sharing their homes," spokesperson Alex Dagg said in a statement.

Coun. Stephen Blais was the only one to vote against the new rules.

"This was a classic example of overreach," he said Wednesday. 

Blais said homeowners should be allowed to rent out a basement apartment or neighbouring unit if they want.

"You're on site. It's not this absentee landlord issue that has popped up. You have just as much skin in the game," he said.

Council did allow an exception for rural coach houses and in-law suites. Council reasoned those are useful options in rural areas where there are few hotels, especially in the aftermath of emergencies such as floods and tornadoes.

Targeting problem landlords

The other part of the package approved Wednesday targets problem landlords by increasing some inspection fees, hiring two more bylaw officers and improving how they deal with pests and vermin.

Councillors Shawn Menard and Rawlson King wanted staff to study the idea of a landlord registry.

"Registration for those who house others is likely reasonable given that we do this for fishing, and dogs and cats," Menard said.

City staff said they contemplated a registry, but decided against it because landlords would likely pass the cost of any fees along to their tenants. Instead, they chose to focus on a few landlords who prompted most of the complaints to the bylaw department.

Watson argued a registry would just add another  layer of bureaucracy and urged council to reject Menard's motion, which it did in a 14-7 vote.