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Vancouver mayor plans to license and tax Airbnb rentals

SCOTT BROWN, Postmedia Network

Chief license inspector Kathryn Holm and mayor Gregor Robertson.

Chief license inspector Kathryn Holm and mayor Gregor Robertson.

Vancouver homeowner who rent out their property through Airbnb or other short-term rental websites may soon have to buy a business licence.

As part of a new regulatory framework for short-term rentals, a city staff report suggests requiring owners or renters who list their principal residences with short-term rental agencies to purchase an annual business license for $49. Meanwhile, the short-term rental platforms, like Airbnb, would be hit with a transaction fee up to three per cent that would be remitted to the city to help fund the administration and enforcement of licensing short-term rentals.

The city won’t allow secondary residences to be rented out for short-term stays.

The regulations, the city says, would legalize up to 70% of existing entire-unit rentals and virtually all single-room short-term rental (STR) listings in Vancouver, while potentially boosting the long-term rental supply by more than 1,000 homes.

“Housing is first and foremost for homes, not to be operated as a business, and Vancouver’s approach to short-term rentals strikes a balance that will ensure the best use of all our housing,” Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement. “By regulating short-term rentals, the city is protecting long-term rental stock – which, with a 0.8% vacancy rate, every home counts – while recognizing that many who live and work in Vancouver rely on rental income from their principal residence to make ends meet.”

For its part, Airbnb says it welcomes Vancouver’s move toward regulating home sharing.

“Airbnb has worked cooperatively with the city and shared comprehensive data about our community. We are looking forward to reviewing the city’s report in detail and providing our response to city council,” Alex Dagg, Airbnb’s public policy manager, said in a statement.

“The vast majority of Airbnb hosts in Vancouver use home sharing to help pay the bills and afford to stay in their homes,” Dagg said.

Vancouver is home to roughly 5,100 Airbnb hosts with 80% of them sharing their primary residence, according to stats provided by Airbnb.

Airbnb claims its guests to Vancouver generated more than $400 million in local economic activity for neighbourhoods across the city.

“There’s not enough rental housing to keep this city functioning as it should,” said Robertson.

“Short term rentals now make up 30% of Vancouver’s accommodation for tourists. Airbnb is effectively Vancouver’s largest hotel,” said Robertson.

“The city is taking a balanced approach with short term rentals. Our focus is on ensuring we protect our long term rental housing and also that we ensure people can make supplemental income from short term rentals. It has become an important rental source for many Vancouverites,” the mayor said.

Key elements of the proposed regulations include:

• STR operators are required to obtain a business license and pay an annual license fee ($49/year plus one-time $54 activation fee).

• STR operators are required to comply with building safety, neighbourhood fit, and STR advertising and booking requirements.

• STRs of secondary residences are not allowed.

• STRs of legal secondary suites or laneway homes which are not principal residences, or illegal secondary suits, are not allowed.

• Operators must list their business licenses number on the STR site, and STR sites will only list STRs with valid business licenses.