More provinces should follow Quebec’s lead in seeking to hold short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb accountable for uncertified listings, advocates say.
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The Quebec government tabled a bill last Tuesday that would require short-term rental companies to ensure their online listings are certified by the province.
If passed, such companies would face fines of up to $100,000 for each illegal rental listing.
The proposed rules would mark a first for a Canadian jurisdiction, said David Wachsmuth, the Canada Research Chair in Urban Governance at McGill University, noting Quebec and some cities across the country have previously only targeted hosts with unregistered listings.
He said Quebec already had “the best provincial approach to short-term rentals” through its registration system but the problem was that many Airbnb hosts were still skirting those requirements.
“The thing that was missing from Quebec’s approach was something that was going to actually make people follow the rules,” said Wachsmuth.
“The new law puts an onus on Airbnb to actually receive the permit itself from the host. I think that really changes the game in terms of how likely it is that people are going to follow these rules.”
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Quebec’s bill would make it illegal for anyone to advertise a short-term rental online without including the number and expiry date for their provincial certificate. It came in response to calls from cities for limits on the number of Airbnb-style rentals, which have removed apartments from the long-term rental market and exacerbated housing shortages.
In March, seven people died in a fire in an Old Montreal heritage building that had been housing illegal short-term rentals on Airbnb. The company later said it would voluntarily remove all uncertified listings in Quebec from its online platform and require all new listings to have certificate numbers.
Cities such as Vancouver and Toronto have mandatory registration systems in place for short-term rentals, but Wachsmuth said that neither framework requires the platform to take the additional step of proactively validating a listing’s permit number.
Thorben Wieditz of Fairbnb, a coalition of groups from the regulated hotel and B&B industry, said more provinces should follow Quebec’s lead.
“There are some cities that have a similar setup, but the provincewide approach is superior because a lot of municipalities and townships don’t have the financial resources to actually set up a registry themselves and do the enforcement,” said Wieditz.
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“The province basically levelled the playing field for all the communities in Quebec and I think we will see the same thing happening in British Columbia, where the province is working on a similar approach.”
The B.C. government has indicated a desire to tighten up rules for Airbnb listings.
Last December, Premier David Eby tasked newly appointed Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon in his mandate letter with introducing “legislation establishing new tools for local governments to help them better regulate short term rentals in their communities.”
That would come as welcome news to the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), which has been calling for better regulation of short-term rentals in the province for five years, said its president Jen Ford.
“It’s really expensive and difficult for local governments, especially in small communities or in rural communities, to manage regulating these short-term accommodations,” said Ford, a Whistler councillor.
“The urgency has been there for a long time.”
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Two years ago, the UBCM produced a report examining the impacts of short-term rentals on local communities. It highlighted that the Municipal and Regional District Tax, a provincial levy on short-term accommodations such as hotels, has not been fairly applied to “a changing accommodation sector.”
“It eats into long-term housing accommodations for renters, for people looking to to live long-term in a community, and we are in a housing crisis,” said Ford.
“There’s no question that every bed, every housing unit is needed. We just can’t build at the pace that we need to solve the housing crisis.”
As the B.C. government mulls its policy approach, Wieditz said he hopes Quebec’s proposal can show the western province “that without the enforcement teeth and stiff fines for platforms themselves, any sort of provincial approach is also meaningless.”
Wachsmuth said other provinces should take note too.
“Provinces are aware of the question and have been investigating what the proper provincial role is, but the truth of the matter is that in general, across Canada, provinces have been very happy to leave cities to handle these types of issues,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s rocket science that there’s a good provincial role here, just from an efficiency perspective, to get everybody on the same page.”
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