Is Airbnb Out of Control?
Airbnb, founded in 2008, is an online ‘home-rental hub’ providing tourists and travellers with access to millions of accommodations in over 190 countries – with lodgings available in houses, condos, villas and more. Travellers can choose from listings posted on the Airbnb website by the home owners, called ‘hosts’, who want to earn a little extra income to help pay the bills by offering short-term rentals of rooms or entire dwellings. But now there are owners and property management companies who appear to be taking advantage of the program and side-stepping the rules put in place.
In December 2015, the Quebec government put forth Bill 67 to regulate short-term rentals in the province. People who regularly rent out their properties are required to get a certificate from the province’s tourism ministry, pay a lodging tax and if not the property owner, advise their landlords that they will be renting to tourists. There are considerable fines in place for those who don’t follow the rules – but it doesn’t seem to be stopping many from doing so.
One property management company in Montreal has close to 160 properties which they have been renting out through Airbnb – and have so far been profiting up to what is reported to be several million dollars. To put it simply, they have turned their rental apartments into hotels.
A study by McGill University’s David Wachsmuth and his team, showed a small number of commercial property managers have been generating a majority of Airbnb’s overall revenue – and cutting into available housing rentals for Montrealers, as well as driving up rent. They also found that two or three per cent of the housing available in the Montreal’s more popular Plateau-Mont-Royal and Ville-Marie boroughs, is now being run by property management companies for short-term rentals.
More importantly, the majority of Quebecers who list their properties on Airbnb and other home rental websites are not registering with the province for their permits. The tourism department issued 967 permits for rental hosts out of 2,244 applications in the year after the law took effect on April 15, 2016. There were 19,400 Airbnb hosts in Quebec in 2016, according to the data.
This past July, some residents of Shaughnessy Village spoke out about the problems home-sharing services have been causing on their street.
“There are five places within 20 metres of where we’re standing,” Bernard Sanchez said in a Montreal Gazette report, while pointing out apartments being rented through home-sharing services like Airbnb. Two years ago he started noticing the problem when a house sold on Tupper St. was converted into a short-term rental property. He said that ‘people came and went with trolley suitcases in tow, often confused about parking restrictions along the street and that license plates from different provinces and states became common’.
More houses were sold on the street and more people were coming and going. Even an apartment complex at the corner of the street started renting out units to tourists – and with it came garbage left at the curb, broken bottles littering the sidewalks and parties lasting until 3:00 in the morning.
“I fear it will only get worse and worse,” he added. “We won’t have quietness. We won’t have clean streets. We won’t have security or safety for our kids. It will affect the value of our properties. And it’s our homes… we need help. The law was changed to give it more teeth, but nothing seems to be happening.”
And it’s not the only area in Montreal noticing the problems. Martin Blanchard of the Comité de Lodgement de la Petite-Patrie said that a dramatic increase in Airbnb listings in La Petite-Patrie have resulted in a lack of available apartments for residents.
There are other cities worldwide who are attempting to deal with Airbnb; Toronto proposed regulations to prohibit people from renting out homes that aren’t their principal residence. New York banned short-term rentals of complete apartments, while Berlin banned short-term rentals altogether.
Quebec needs to better enforce Bill 67 and put even more inspectors out there, but it’s not an easy task. To date, only 27 inspectors are mandated by the province’s tourism department to enforce the laws – up from two when the law first came into effect.
As suggested by David Wachsmuth, perhaps regulations should include that hosts only be allowed to rent out their primary residences – and not have multiple listings. As well, there should be no full-time rentals allowed in properties solely existing to be rented through Airbnb – and that short-term rental platforms, like Airbnb, should be required to enforce the regulations themselves.
Have you any direct experiences with Airbnb as a host or a guest? What was your experience like?
Do you have suggestions about how to handle what many consider a growing problem that is out of control?