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Vancouver wants to regulate short-term stay programs like AirBnB, making it important for homeowners to know the rules.

Is your home’s guest suite a hotel room?

Published: |

Airbnb has positioned some eye-grabbing advertisements at the entrance to Broadway-City Hall station. A few steps away, city politicians say the popular booking service isn’t welcome in Vancouver. Not if it prevents people from renting their units to long-term tenants, anyway.

The city has taken a strong stand in support of measures designed to increase the supply of rental units to tenants. Many people find themselves frozen out of the local rental market, and the city says short-term rentals via Airbnb are one of the reasons. Plug “Vancouver short-term rentals” into Google and you’ll find the city’s information page, sandwiched between results for Roomorama.com and Airbnb.ca, among other services.

City crackdown

The city estimates that about 5,000 housing units are being offered for short-term rental, and it’s started prosecuting operators in response to neighbours’ complaints.

What does this mean for you, if you’re thinking of buying a property and renting out part of it?

First of all, you’ll likely run into problems if you don’t have a business license. Second, if you buy an apartment property, you’ll want to make sure that rentals don’t violate your building’s by-laws or bother other residents.

Still, many people feel the city’s stance infringes their property rights. Why should the city or building council limit the kind of guests homeowners have? Why should anyone tell guests how to repay the homeowner? I’ve spoken with plenty of people who feel they’re losing the right to let others stay in their apartments when they’re away.

Renting is a business

On the other hand, if people are renting out their units as a business, they should have a business license. It’s one thing to host guests; it’s quite another to regularly invite strangers to pay for the privilege of staying in your home. Bed and breakfasts have licenses; so should homeowners who treat the sharing economy as an adventure in the nature of trade.

And that, according to researchers Ken Lambert of HLT Advisory Inc. and Chris Gibbs of Ryerson University, is exactly what many people are doing.

The duo told the Western Canada Lodging Conference last month that Vancouver has up to 1,777 active Airbnb listings at any one time. Up to 70% of these listings are for an entire unit. This led Lambert and Gibbs to conclude that most listings are less about sharing space, and more about competing directly with hotel units (their concern) and long-term rentals (the city’s concern).

Legislation is coming

The pair said 2017 promises to be “the year of legislation,” as cities target short-term rentals in order to address the supply of rental units.

If you’re thinking about buying a detached home near UBC or apartment in Kitsilano with a view to hosting travelers as mortgage helpers, it’s a good idea to think twice.

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