Short-term rental rules get unanimous committee support

·3 min read
At a meeting in November 2019, more than 60 public delegations weighed on the city's approach to short-term rental sites such as Airbnb. On Thursday, city councillors on two committees unanimously approved a strict new permit system for hosts. (Kate Porter/CBC - image credit)
At a meeting in November 2019, more than 60 public delegations weighed on the city's approach to short-term rental sites such as Airbnb. On Thursday, city councillors on two committees unanimously approved a strict new permit system for hosts. (Kate Porter/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa city councillors hoping to bring an end to the noise, garbage and even violence that short-term vacation rentals sometimes attract unanimously approved strict new rules Thursday.

The new permit system has been a long time coming, and stems from a meeting in November 2019 where more than 60 people addressed the city's plan to limit the rentals to primary residences, limiting the potential for absentee landlords to earn money from investment properties.

The Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association has been pushing the city to regulate web-based platforms such as Airbnb, Expedia-owned VRBO and misterb&b, pointing out that Ottawa is among the last of Canada's big cities to do so.

"Enacting clear and concise short-term rental regulations has never been more important, and never been timelier," the association's president, Steve Ball, told a joint meeting of the city's planning and community and protective services committees.

The city plans to establish a six-member enforcement team while it finesses the bylaw through a three-year pilot stage.

Airbnb calls for delay

An Airbnb representative said the company would educate its hosts about the new municipal permit they'll now need to rent out their primary residence or rural cottage. The company is also promising to give the city real-time access to information about listings.

But Nathan Rotman called for local politicians to delay implementing the bylaw, saying more hosts will be looking to rent their properties once the pandemic is over.

"Limiting your supply of short-term rentals just before the reintroduction of travel is a mistake which will limit restaurant, small business and attraction recovery," Rotman warned.

He was swiftly rebuffed by Coun. Riley Brockington, who said communities have had to deal with a "Wild West" of noise and even violence.

"I just want to remind you we are here today because Airbnb has failed to address how their houses have been misused over time," said Brockington. "We had to come here and create laws because companies like yours didn't address this."

'The gig was up'

Keith Egli, whose Knoxdale-Merivale ward saw a shooting at a short-term rental home, grilled staff about how the city will ensure a property listed for rent is the owner's primary residence, while Coun. Diane Deans, who first raised the idea of a bylaw years ago, worried that continuing to allow groups of up to 16 adults rent homes with up to eight bedrooms would do little to discourage disruptive parties.

Despite those objections, councillors unanimously approved the regulations, which will now head to city council for a final vote on April 28.

Coun. Catherine McKenney, who has expressed concern over the loss of scarce rental housing to short-term sites like Airbnb, said their office regularly received calls from residents who were losing their apartments to short-stay web listings.

Once council approved the new approach in November 2019, the calls stopped, McKenney said.

"Small landlords knew, and homeowners knew, the gig was up. Once we passed the framework, the erosion of the rental market stopped almost immediately."