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Over 100 rule-breaking Airbnb listings remain active in Vancouver

A Vancouver city councillor says Airbnb listings with expired business licences are still up on the platform, despite requests for their removal in October 2023. (Daniel Krason/Shutterstock - image credit)
A Vancouver city councillor says Airbnb listings with expired business licences are still up on the platform, despite requests for their removal in October 2023. (Daniel Krason/Shutterstock - image credit)

A Vancouver city councillor is calling for greater compliance from short-term rental platforms over listings without a valid business licence.

In an interview with CBC News, Coun. Lenny Zhou said the city "really values the partnership … with short-term rental platforms like Airbnb.

"But I think it's also very important to balance the housing needs of people who live and work in Vancouver."

Zhou called out Airbnb on X, previously Twitter, for about 120 non-compliant short-term rental listings that remained on the site despite what he described as the city's efforts to flag those listings for removal in October last year.

"During this housing crisis, every single unit counts. An illegal [short-term rental] takes away one unit from our residents," his post reads.

The booking platform, however, says the city is responsible for enforcing its own bylaws through fines.

According to Zhou, the city does not have the legal authority to order the removal of non-compliant listings from short-term rental platforms — but that it's something the province can do.

This means when B.C.'s new short-term rental regulations are enacted this summer, listings without the proper municipal business licences will be removed.

Vancouver city councillor Lenny Zhou listens to speakers during a motion to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism at City Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, November 16, 2022.
Vancouver city councillor Lenny Zhou listens to speakers during a motion to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism at City Hall in Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, November 16, 2022.

Coun. Lenny Zhou says that, without provincial oversight, rule-breaking Airbnb owners can continue to make money off the platform. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In the interview with CBC, Zhou acknowledged that when Vancouver first introduced its short-term rental regulations in 2018, Airbnb did remove unlicensed operators from the platform.

"Airbnb is the one actually managing all the listings on their platform," Zhou said.

"So the agreement with Airbnb is focused on partnership to achieve compliance by their host with our regulations."

'They don't have an incentive to handle the problem'

Thomas Davidoff, a professor at the University of British Columbia, says it's unsurprising the non-compliant listings have not been removed.

"If Airbnb can slow roll ... they don't have an incentive to handle the problem. So I think the city is kind of delegating to Airbnb," Davidoff said.

"About 120 units is not important, but we have a problem where people who work for a living and pay taxes in Vancouver can't find homes readily, so it's reasonable for the government to prioritise [those people] over short-term rentals."

Professor Thomas Davidoff is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, December 18, 2019.
Professor Thomas Davidoff is pictured in Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, December 18, 2019.

The University of B.C.'s Thomas Davidoff says that a tax on Airbnb transactions would be more effective at dealing with scofflaw Airbnb owners. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He suggests an alternative to strict rental regulations could be a tax on Airbnb transactions

"You could make more money short-term than actually having the costs associated with renting and also the sort of headache and time that [homeowners] might be trying to skirt."

Jinjae Jeong says it's ironic that as a housing advocate, he too is struggling to find housing in Vancouver.

"Here I am, not being able to actually live where I work, where I spend time with my friends and the city that's come to mean a lot to me," Jeong, an articled student at the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre — which provides free legal education and advocacy to tenants across B.C. — told CBC News.

He says the challenges boil down to a lack of housing options in the city, landlords asking to raise rent higher than advertised, or landlords asking invasive questions, such as credit rating and personal details, when deciding to sign a tenancy agreement.

"The fact of the matter is, tenants who have a child, tenants who have pets, tenants who have personal health circumstances are finding that these are barriers to entering a new tenancy that it wasn't before."

Enforcement challenges

In a statement to CBC News, Nathan Rotman, policy lead at Airbnb Canada, said the City of Vancouver is responsible for enforcing its own bylaws through tickets and fines.

"Airbnb has a longstanding agreement to share data with the city to support their enforcement work, and we educate hosts on their responsibilities to follow local laws," the statement reads.

Zhou had said on X that enforcing fines presents a challenge as tickets "must be personally delivered or left at a residence with someone age 16 or older" and "ascertaining the [short-term rental] operator's residence is very difficult for the city."

According to the provincial Ministry of Housing, short-term rental regulations coming into effect on May 1 include the requirement to display valid business licences where required.

By the summer, regulations coming into effect include "data sharing and enabling provincial support for local governments where platforms fail to remove listings without valid business licences."

"Later this summer, data sharing from [short-term rental] platforms will begin, meaning platforms will be required to remove listings without valid business licence numbers and the province's compliance and enforcement unit will be launched," a ministry spokesperson said in a statement.