Pros, cons of Airbnb rules debated at marathon meeting

Pros, cons of Airbnb rules debated at marathon meeting

Airbnb hosts descended upon city hall Friday to try to prevent the City of Ottawa from passing regulations they say would kill jobs and eliminate a form of rental accommodation needed by visitors.

But after a meeting that lasted more than 10 hours, the community and protective services committee ended up endorsing plans to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rentals in Ottawa.

As councillors listened to more than 60 speakers take the microphone Friday, they seemed more sympathetic to residents who've had to live next to an unwanted rotation of short-term guests. 

"I'm looking for more of a stick than a carrot on this [to] ensure we're keeping people safe in their neighbourhoods," Orléans councillor Matthew Luloff told Airbnb's representative.

During the marathon meeting, which ended around 8 p.m. community and protective services committee chair Jenna Sudds called the rules devised by staff "robust and focused."

Ottawa has come up with rules for short-term rentals because they currently operate illegally and are against zoning rules. Staff have proposed a permit system that would restrict short-term rentals to primary homes and rural vacation properties.

The eight-member committee ultimately decided in favour of the short-term rental framework, with three councillors — Luloff, Stephen Blais and Eli El-Chantiry — voting against it.

The rules now go to city council on Nov. 27 for approval.

Airbnb hosts have 'skin in the game'

Airbnb said Friday that Ottawa's rules need a lot more work, and shouldn't leave out investment properties, pieds-à-terre, and basement apartments with separate entrances.

"We're concerned to see city staff recommend the adoption of a set of strict rules that seem to copycat large urban centres," said Airbnb public policy manager Alex Dagg, referring to Toronto's rules — which have been appealed.

Genevieve Walton owns Short and Suite BnB, the largest short-rental property management company in the city. It employs 30 people, she said, mostly newcomers and single moms juggling work and family.

"I'm incredibly proud of these individuals every day. I'm also concerned these are the same people I'll be letting go shortly," she told committee members.

Kate Porter/CBC

Walton said Airbnb is thriving because it offers prompt payment and prompt recourse from renters, while solving issues that landlords often have with Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board.

Other speakers warned councillors their rules were even stricter than Toronto's and would likely lead to both an appeal at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and more years of limbo.

Airbnb host Tiffany Gauthier urged councillors to "respect the evolution that's occurring."

She said she has "so much skin in the game" she would contribute significantly to appeal the new rules, should they pass.

'Ghost hotel' horrors

For one Old Ottawa East home owner, the regulations can't come quickly enough, however. 

Lenore Duff is scared delaying an appeal could make her endure another "party high season."

Last Canada Day, cars came and went all night from a party, using her driveway, she told councillors. People spilled out of the house, smoking and drinking. A cigarette butt melted her garage roof.

"I spent the whole summer panicked about who would show up next door and what havoc they would wreak," Duff said.

Kate Porter/CBC

Other home owners from Kanata and Nepean shared similar stories of "ghost hotels" next door, and the constant calls to the city to deal with noise and garbage.

"Party houses have been a problem in my ward," Coun. Jeff Leiper told Airbnb, pointing to a homicide in Mechanicsville last year. The proposed regulations are exactly what his residents need, he said, as they see homes increasingly converted to short-term rentals.

The giant staff report dealt not only with short-term rentals, but also another set of new regulations to govern traditional landlords and tenants and deal with problem properties.

Residents also spoke about poor living conditions, while landlords said they welcomed an approach that would crack down on the few "bad apples."