Opinion Column

Cracking down on Airbnb handcuffs homeowners

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet in Berlin on April 28, 2016. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet in Berlin on April 28, 2016. (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Not only is buying your first home in Vancouver tough but so is trading up from that initial entry-level property. According to a TD Bank report, “buyer gridlock” is an affliction caused by sky-high home prices in this city. Those who bought into the market with an entry level home hoping to be able to buy something larger a few years later, find themselves stuck because taking that next step is too expensive.

Creative and motivated Vancouverites are thinking of ways to make the seemingly impossible happen: from living with their parents or in-laws while saving for a bigger down payment, to buying a home with friends to renting out their home on Airbnb to make a bit of extra cash. But that last part is about to get more complicated and difficult.

Last week, the City of Vancouver took a short-term rental Airbnb operator to the B.C. Supreme Court — petitioning to stop the rental of one particular home in Vancouver’s Fairview Slopes. Earlier this month, they proposed regulations that would require homeowners to apply for a business license to rent out rooms in their principal residences. (Short-term rentals in any potion of a home that isn’t the owners’ principal residence would remain illegal).

Starting this kind of legal action and threatening regulations are bound to have a chilling effect – discouraging homeowners from listing their owner properties on the rental site for fear of being taken to court. The City claims the home sharing site is eating into Vancouver’s supply of affordable housing and that’s why the practice must be quelled. The theory goes that if homes weren’t listed on Airbnb, they would automatically enter the long-term rental pool. However, according to Airbnb spokespeople, this isn’t necessarily true. They have said that the majority of Vancouverites who list properties on the website, “do so a few nights a month to earn a modest, supplemental income.”

It seems the City is mostly concerned about large companies running multiple rentals and Airbnb spokespeople have indicated that commercial operators area unwelcome and they are willing to work with the City to create regulations around that, so why the heavy hand?

The City of Vancouver’s approach: scaring all Airbnb hosts out of engaging with short-term rentals does nothing to help affordability but only hurts those who are doing their best to make ends meet in a market that already has them fighting uphill.