Short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo have taken a significant number of units out of New Brunswick's available housing market, says a researcher from McGill University, and unless communities introduce regulations, that number will probably increase after the pandemic.
David Wachsmuth is an associate professor who teaches urban planning and a Canada Research Chair in urban governance.
He's been looking at short-term rentals across the country and has found they are making housing "harder to find and more expensive."
"Now, local residents aren't just competing against other local residents for housing," said Wachsmuth, "they're also competing against tourists and other visitors."
Property owners can charge $60 to $200 a night for rentals in downtown Fredericton. Some in Saint Andrews are listed for more than $400 a night.
Just prior to the pandemic, there were 1,880 short-term rentals across the province, said Wachsmuth.
Most of them were in small towns and rural areas, especially along the coast.
In the three larger cities, Moncton had 250, Fredericton had 135 and Saint John had 100.
In Fredericton, the number of short-term rentals had approximately tripled since 2017, Wachsmuth said.
Those units were concentrated along the river in the downtown area.
Things changed during the pandemic, but Wachsmuth thinks it's just a "temporary reprieve."
He expects short-term rentals will "come back with a vengeance" as travel resumes.
Between the summer of 2019 and the summer of 2021, active listings in New Brunswick dropped 34 per cent, he said.
The decline was more pronounced — 47 per cent — in Moncton and Fredericton.
This summer, 80 out of 2,850 housing units in downtown Moncton were short-term rentals.
In Fredericton's Queen's Square area, they accounted for 40 out of 2,000 units.
Those numbers may seem small, representing just two or three per cent of the total number of units.
But they'd make a big difference in the vacancy rate if they were back on the long-term market.
They'd also give renters more options.
The current vacancy rate of about one per cent is "way too low" for a healthy housing market, Wachsmuth said.
Moncton and Saint Andrews have been considering bringing in rules to curb short-term rentals.
Some other New Brunswick communities have been waiting to see what they came up with.
Saint Andrews town clerk Paul Nopper said they looked all over North America and modelled a proposal after a program in Nashville.
It went through about 27 drafts and passed second reading before the spring elections, he said, but the new council wasn't convinced it would solve anything.
They defeated it last month, although Nopper said it could possibly be revisited after six months.
Wachsmuth points to what Halifax is doing and Vancouver has already done — restrict short-term rentals to owner-occupied properties, something he says would create a "fairer housing market."
"So, if you've got an extra room, that's fine," he said. "But we don't want to see people buying up dozens of homes and converting them into de facto hotels."
In Vancouver, he said, the restrictions led to the return of at least 500 full-time Airbnbs to the long-term market.
Nopper isn't sure that type of regulation would create more long-term rentals in Saint Andrews.
The town has 50 to 55 short-term rental properties, he said, and about a two per cent vacancy rate. Many property owners only live there for about two weeks a year.
People who've had issues with longer-term tenants, such as college students, might simply decide it's not worth the hassle.
Every community has its own particular conditions, said Nopper, suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn't work.
"Communities need to decide what they think are appropriate uses of people's homes," said Wachsmuth.
Throughout history, he said, there has usually been a supply of housing available to meet the needs of people who live and work in a place.
"It's been easy to forget what a normal housing market should look like – one where housing prices aren't skyrocketing every single year, where if you want to find an apartment to live in and you don't have a lot of money, you can find a nice place," he said.
"None of those things have been true in most parts of the country for so long now."