'It is illegal': City tells developer to stop short-term rentals

The City of Vancouver has again ordered a developer to stop offering short-term rental properties at a downtown Seymour Street property, threatening to escalate enforcement if it flouts this latest warning.

The city warned Onni this week to halt all short-term rentals at the property, said Kaye Krisha, the city's general manager of development, buildings and licensing.

The city also issued a similar warning last year to the developer about the same building.

City bylaws forbid short-term rentals under 30 days without a bed and breakfast or hotel license. Onni's Seymour Street building, billed as "level furnished living" describes itself on Facebook as a hotel.

Krishna said Onni last year agreed to stop offering short-term rentals at the Seymour Street building, but this week, reports surfaced that the developer was again offering to rent units for less than 30 days.

"It is illegal," Krishna said. "It is violating bylaws. They do not have a hotel or B&B licence so they're not allowed to rent for anything less than 30 days."

No more short term rentals

If Onni disregards another warning, Krishna said, the city is prepared to go to court or revoke the developer's business licence to rent units.

The rental units at Level are listed on a several travel sites, including Booking.com, Expedia and Yelp. Earlier on Thursday, Booking.com described Level as "Perfect for a 1-night stay!"

Onni declined an interview, but in a statement it said the property is primarily focused on longer-term stays of 30 days or more. It says occasionally it has accepted what it calls "a small amount of short-term business." For those stays it has collected and paid appropriate taxes, the statement said.

The statement said Onni had discussions with the city this week and agreed to "no longer permit any short-term stays at Level Furnished Living Vancouver."

By late Thursday, Booking.com's description of Level had changed to "Perfect for a 4-night stay!"

The city's confrontation with Onni comes as it grapples with the popularity of companies such as Airbnb, which offer short-term rentals in residential units and single family homes. For tourists, these rentals provide cheaper alternatives to hotels.

'Undermines' city fabric

In Vancouver and other markets with high-priced housing, short term residential rentals such as Airbnb also provide an income stream for home and condo owners with suites or rooms to rent.

In theory, any Airbnb short-term rental violates the city's ban, but Krishna said the city does not target individual property owners. It's mainly concerned about commercial operators.

The problem with the popularity of short-term rental services is that the proliferation of these kind of units effectively removes desperately-needed long-term rental units from the market, she said.

"This is hugely problematic," said Coun. Adriane Carr, adding that developers who use their entire buildings for large-scale, short-term rentals "completely undermine the social fabric of the city."

"We need a plan to tackle egregious situations like this and do it fast because, meanwhile, people are leaving Vancouver."