With files from The Simi Sara Show.
In Vancouver, the short term rental bylaw states that all rental tenancies must be at least 30 days – except in hotels and licensed bed & breakfasts.
But the vast majority of Airbnb are violating that regulation, including the New York Apartments building now under investigation by the city for operating no less than 17 of 29 units units as Airbnb short term rentals.
That’s not news to Ian Marchbanks, a student with UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning who has been studying the impact of Airbnb on Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate.
He says more than 99% of the Airbnb stays in Vancouver are less than 30 days, which means they’re breaking the rules.
LISTEN: Ian Marchbanks on The Simi Sara Show
Skirting hotel taxes
Then there are the taxes.
Vancouver’s hotel tax is actually called the municipal and regional district tax and is levied on hotel rooms, and most cities have something similar.
Plus is you stay in a hotel room in B.C. you have to pay the 8% sales tax as well.
Airbnb stays are not taxed as such. But why not?
According to Marchbanks, about 77% of Airbnb’s revenue is coming from commercial hosts who are renting properties year-round.
“They aren’t living in the suites, as we see in the Kitsilano example, where you have multiple properties in a single house, or in properties across the city that are being run full-time. And that accounts for about 27% of Airbnb’s revenue – just from that top 10% of superhosts.”
Single room occupancy hotel bylaws
In addition to the short term rental bylaw, there are restrictions on single-room occupancy suites, like the property in Kits.
“Those are an obsolete form of housing,” says Marchbanks,”but it';s also one that only people who can’t afford anything else will rent a single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel. That’s why we have them and that’s why the city is even talking about making new ones.”
The small stock of affordable housing in the form of SROs also operate under a bylaw in Vancouver that states if an owner wants to re-develop the suites they have to be a provider of social housing already and intend to use the suites for social housing in the future.
He says that the owners of the SRO in Kitsilano are skirting the bylaw by renting as AirBnB to make as much money as they can until they can demolish the building for re-development.
Airbnb protects member’s identities
Even in San Francisco where they have regulations about renting accommodation, there isn’t enough in place to enforce the regulations and force Airbnb to give up information.
“What we found is that there’s about 10% compliance with that because Airbnb protects people’s identities when they break the law, and they refuse to tell the city who they are or where they are or how to get in touch with them. And there hasn’t been, until recently, any legislation on the books to fine Airbnb directly for hiding people’s identities when they’re breaking the law.”
Where does the province stand on the issue?
Marchbanks says when he was doing the study, the BC Liberals were advertising the legalization of the sharing economy.
“So I think there’s a really strong push on the provincial level for platforms like Airbnb and like Uber to basically exist and to run with impunity to municipal laws. My understanding is there isn’t a lot of support on the provincial level for some of the regulations that have been proposed here in Vancouver.”
Marchbanks says he thinks it’s incredible that a $30 billion multi-national corporation is facilitating illegal activities in the City of Vancouver and province and the city government really don’t have the tools to tell them to stop.
“It really throws into question do we really have the ability to enforce our laws, do we really have a rule of law in the City of Vancouver if we’re going to allow multi-national corporations to do this?”