'Not playing by the same rules': Edmonton hoteliers want more regulation on short-term rentals

Some of Edmonton's hoteliers say the city hasn't gone far enough in regulating the city's short-term rental industry — and some homeowners living near rental units agree. 

Edmonton Destination Marketing Hotels — a non-profit marketing association representing 57 hotels in Edmonton — launched a new online campaign Thursday singling out short-term rentals and encouraging Edmontonians to write letters of complaint to city councillors. 

Rentals available on sites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway can cause serious problems in residential neighbourhoods, said executive director Karen Chalmers. She wants the city to start treating them like businesses. 

"We've found ourselves in a precarious situation with this new entry into the accommodations industry that is not playing by the same rules," Chalmers said in an interview Thursday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "There is not the same standard in taxation and regulation.

"We pay commercial taxes, we have security and safety regulations that are mandated and none of those are regulated by short term rentals." 

'Virtually no rights'

The hotel association is lobbying for new city zoning regulations to limit the ability of short-term rentals to operate in certain residential neighbourhoods.

Under the regulations proposed by the association, owners would need a criminal record check, fire safety inspections and proof of insurance. Licences would be revoked if operators failed to verify guests in person. 

The association wants the city to create a special category of business licence for short-term rentals that are not owner-occupied. It would also like Edmonton to adopt primary residence rules, meaning rentals can only be operated from a principal residence.

Such rules have already been adopted in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa.

Short term rentals, established without community consultation and often managed by absentee landlords, can bring noise and crime to residential neighbourhoods, Chalmers said. Their proliferation in neighbourhoods across the city has been unchecked, she said. 

"I want those safeguards," she said. "Because right now, if an Airbnb opens up beside me, I have virtually no rights." 

Drunken guests

Jeff McCammon attended a news conference hosted by the association at city hall on Thursday morning. McCammon says an Airbnb rental in his Edmonton neighbourhood of Brander Gardens has been more than a nuisance.  

"Over the last few years, a neighbour across the street moved out of their home to create a commercial short-term rental business in my residential neighbourhood," McCammon said.

Airbnb

"Since its arrival, there has been a lack of security for my neighbours, my children have witnessed vulgar acts by some transient drunken guests and there has been an overall loss of community along with diminished quality of life overall for my family.

"How this Airbnb is able to operate in a residential neighbourhood and qualify for a home-based business licence is beyond me." 

New regulations for operators in Edmonton came into effect on Aug. 27, 2019. Operators must complete a home-based business licence application, get an inspection from Alberta Health Services and supply guests with information about the city's bylaws.

The city started investigating regulation options after multiple complaints were filed regarding disruptive and untidy short-term rental properties, complaints that coincided with a significant increase in the number of listings.

As of May, Edmonton had more than 2,400 listings. The city only had 44 listings in 2014. 

'This is just enough' 

Angela Sun also wants Airbnb banned from residential areas. She said two Airbnb rentals across the street from her home in the Garneau neighbourhood have brought noise and crime to her previously quiet street. 

"The owners are not even living in Alberta," Sun said during Thursday's news conference.  "We see drunks passed out on our lawn, pounding on our door.

"There was an attempted break-in and open marijuana smoking and late-night party noise, yelling and shouting after 2 a.m." 

Sun said she no longer feels safe in her own home. She said any kind of bylaw on short-term rentals will be impossible to enforce.

"We've seen it all," she said. "This is just enough. I have a four-year-old daughter. Do I feel safe living in that neighbourhood? Absolutely not. 

"I do not want my family mixed with transients. They are transients. They come tonight and go the next day. They do not care."  

In an emailed statement to CBC News, an Airbnb spokesperson said the new city regulations should be tested before new bylaws are considered. 

"It is troubling that the corporate hotel lobby is spending thousands of dollars advocating against allowing local Edmontonians benefit from the tourism industry and show visitors a more personal side of their city," an Airbnb spokesperson said in a statement. 

More reports coming

"The responsible approach is to allow these regulations to be implemented and assessed before demanding the city spend public money to burden Edmontonians with more red tape."

The city, however, is exploring options for increased regulation, said Coun. Aaron Paquette. 

"We will be getting more reports back as time goes on and this won't be a one-off," he said. "This is something that's going to be developed in the coming months. 

A further report slated to go before city council's urban planning committee next week, has been delayed until February 2020.

Paquette said he has fielded complaints about absentee landlords and a lack of taxation. 

"It's definitely a debate that we're having," Paquette said. "The situation of people that are renting out homes that they don't reside in is a real issue. 

"We have these large corporations who are making money off our city, but they don't pay taxes."