Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Short term rental

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This blog post is cobbled together from facebook postings prompted by recent events: I had been seeking assistance there but it turned out with a bit of luck and my very own Miss Marple we were able to track things down.

Context

Short term rentals have exploded everywhere. There have always been short terms lets for tourists – holiday cottages, flats and bed and breakfasts all offering furnished accomodation as a cheaper alternative to hotels and with more or less service. We have all (I suspect) used them. The internet changed how we booked them. We no longer buy a copy of a magazine like The Lady (which used to have lots of holiday lets in its small ads over the winter) we go to a website like Craigslist, or one of the growing number of specialists sites and apps of which airbnb maybe the best known but there are lots of others. In Vancouver, many advocates for increasing the supply of rental housing have been pointing to the explosion of these services as one of the reasons that rents are high and vacancy rates near zero. The revenue from these short term rentals is a lot higher than a long term tenancy.

The City of Vancouver “enacted a new bylaw that permits Vancouver residents to operate short-term rentals in their principal residence for stays of less than 30 days” starting April 19 this year. “Secondary suites can be operated as a short-term rental by an owner if it is their principal residence” but they need a business license.

A Series of Events

There are over 80 suites in our building and there has been a fairly high rate of turnover. We also see plenty of care aids coming to visit their clients.  We try to get to know our neighbours. We also have a common laundry.  There are of course rules about how these facilities are shared. There is a system of reservation of laundry times – and one of the things that has changed recently is the number of times people have been in the laundry having the machines explained to them. Whenever we ask who these people are they usually are said to be relatives of the owner. One or two owners seem to have a lot of visitors.

One day we met a very pleasant young man in the elevator going down to the laundry. We asked him when he had moved into the building and he explained that he was in a short term rental. He said he was only here for three days prior to going on a cruise to Alaska. Miss Marple observed him going into a newly renovated unit – one we had been into on an “open house” event. At that time it had its own, newly installed washer and dryer.

Every strata has bylaws. Bylaw 14 in ours is pretty straightforward

No strata lots may be rented or leased

It goes on to set out a few exceptions but none cover short term rentals or operating a bed and breakfast out of your suite.

 

We did a quick scan of the airbnb web page looking for something in our vicinity, but found nothing. Then a couple of days later, there was some undelivered mail on the shelf by our mailboxes. Two envelopes – both addressed to the suite in question and from Booking.com in Amsterdam. There was no name of the addressee but a company “Royal Crown” on one “Royal Crown & Suite” on the other. Miss Marple did a Google search and there it is – not on Booking.com but airbnb. I have taken screen shots, so let me know if that link doesn’t work in the comments, and I will add them here.

I looked at the information and saw what appeared to be a business licence number. The City has the data on business licenses available as spreadsheets you can search. I established that the number quoted referred to two people I do not know and an address of a suite on Howe Street.

So I used the VanConnect app to report what we had learned to the City. Apparently many people are disappointed with the lack of action by the City on this issue and there is also now a Twitter account that is increasing the pressure (hat tip to Sean Orr for that link). You can also go to this report an issue page on the City’s site.

I also joined up for airbnb and tried to send the owner of the unit a message. That wasn’t possible since there was not a single date I could book the unit. This seemed a bit odd to me, so I reported that to Airbnb Support.

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The response time “may vary” is a flat lie. They just don’t want to communicate any more with me. There is, of course, no other way to communicate with them. I have never used airbnb – and now I don’t think I ever will.

Action

I don’t expect the Strata Council or the Building Manager to act as though this were an emergency. I do think that it may offer us a way of increasing the strata revenue since the by law also identifies a fine

(b) if the rental continues beyond the provisions of the Residential Tenancy Act, levy a fine of $500 every 7 days of prolonged occupancy, such fine to be added to the monthly assessment of the owner;

Now I also think that we probably need to add some wording at this point to cover the short term issue. The fines are now much greater than $500 for seven days for non-compliant short term rentals. Just by looking at the 8 reviews for September alone on this one suite – and taking them at face value – there is some revenue due. The Property Manager seems a bit hung up on the Residential Tenancy bit so we may need a General Meeting to resolve that.

The City could fine the owner $1,000 a day for as long he stays in business: the bogus business license should act as a trigger. Hopefully we will hear a bit more in due course and if we do I will update this post.

There is also the really useful Condominium Home Owners’ Association of BC. They have a number of bulletins on short term rentals – these are pdf documents to download listed here: look in the index under “rentals” for “short term rentals”.

By the way, since I joined airbnb I have now submitted a complaint using their online form, and got this response

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The City has now responded to my complaint using the VanConnect app: the status is “In Progress”. The City has also responded to my partner – just acknowledging receipt of the complaint. The building manager says that he has spoken to the owner. However, the listing is still on airbnb complete with the bogus business license number. (Last checked October 11, 2018)

 

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

September 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Posted in housing, Vancouver

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3 Responses

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  1. We spent two weeks in London last month and stayed in a flat in Westminster I found at VRBO / Home Away. It was pretty well as advertised, and we gave it a high rating as did most of the other commenters. In fact, the comments were key to my decision to place the reservation. All financial transactions and communication with the owner were done through the Home Away website. I would use VRBO / Home Away and certainly would book the same flat again.

    This is not an advert, but a commentary on AirBnB and the discomfiture it produces over issues like the suite in your building. Such stories, plus the other negative stories out there (e.g. condo boards overpowered by STR owners, fake listings, etc.), led me away from even considering AirBnB.

    By the way, London was awesome!

    Alex Botta

    October 4, 2018 at 3:26 pm

  2. We used VRBO for our trips to Paris, Rome and Florence. Each suite was publicly identified as a short term rental and was legally operated. Even so, there were some people in the district around the flat in Testaccio who were unhappy about our presence: the tobacconist on the corner refused to sell us tram tickets!

    Glad you enjoyed London.

    Stephen Rees

    October 4, 2018 at 4:20 pm

  3. It is interesting that when mainstream media gets involved the story changes a bit. CTV have a piece on fake listings and this is what airbnb had to say

    Airbnb told CTV News that “fake or misrepresented listings have no place in our community” and that the company is always working to improve its policies and protections.

    “We have removed this user from our platform and provided the guest with full support, including a refund. There have been more than 400 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are extremely rare,” spokesperson Lindsey Scully said in an email.

    So using a fake business license and an illegal but real suite is OK but pretending to be a hotel isn’t.

    Stephen Rees

    October 5, 2018 at 11:44 am


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