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Airbnb faces class-action lawsuit in Vancouver

Keith Fraser, Vancouver Sun

(JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)

(JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)

A downtown Vancouver strata corporation has filed a class-action lawsuit against Airbnb, the online property rental business.

The strata, located in the city's Yaletown neighbourhood, claims that Airbnb has rented out properties throughout B.C. and Canada without the consent of the rightful owners and has profited from the unauthorized rentals without any compensation to those owners.

Polina Furtula, a lawyer representing the strata, said Thursday that the lawsuit is not just being filed on behalf of strata corporations.

"There's other owners of apartments or houses or real estate who have not authorized the rental of their property, the short-term rental," said Furtula, who also sits on the Yaletown strata's council. "And they're finding their properties are being listed on Airbnb without their consent."

The suit claims that the rentals by Airbnb violate strata bylaws that prevent rentals for less than a year except with approval of the strata.

In some cases the rentals are being listed by people who are renting or leasing an apartment and don't inform the owners that they're listing the suites at Airbnb, said Furtula.

"Sometimes it's even people who manage to get a key and they're not even the tenants," she said. "There's people renting out their residential apartments on a short-term basis and basically using the building as a hotel. That has consequences to the other owners, to the strata corporations."

Furtula said it is difficult to detect the problem because of the way Airbnb has structured their business model and their listings.

"It's very easy to list the property without disclosing the correct location. And sometimes they even use photographs of other apartments just so you can't tell which building exactly it is."

The consequence of the short-term rentals is the use of the common facilities — including lobbies, elevators, swimming pools, saunas and gardens — in a way that breaches the rules and bylaws of the strata corporations, she said.

"And that can include parties, for example. That's a common one. Sometimes there's damage as well. There's increased administrative costs, maintenance costs. There is a price to it apart from nuisance as well."

The suit is seeking a court order to be certified as a class-action proceeding and an injunction requiring the defendants to cease advertising rentals of properties located in B.C. and Canada without the consent of the legal owners, including the strata corporations.

It also seeks an accounting of income received by Airbnb regarding the alleged unauthorized rentals as well as unspecified general, special and punitive damages.

Furtula said anyone whose property was being rented out without their consent can contact her law firm for information about the case. She said she expects to update the lawsuit in several weeks with some amendments and to add some parties to the suit.

No response has yet been filed to the lawsuit, which contains allegations that have not been tested in court.

A spokeswoman for Airbnb in Canada said that they are reviewing the lawsuit but will not be commenting on ongoing litigation at this time.

kfraser@postmedia.com

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