Vancouver makes some short-term rentals legal

Operators in primary residences will need to get a licence and pay activation fee

Photo: ArthurStock, Shutterstock

Vancouver city council has voted to make it legal for homeowners and renters to provide short-term rental accommodation on websites such as Airbnb and VRBO, starting April 1, 2018.

The catch is that they will need to pay an annual $49 licence fee as well as a one-time $54 activation fee. The person operating the short-term rental must also list the property as being his or her principal residence.

The bylaw change comes while owners of illegal short-term rental properties openly flout city bylaws, which currently restrict all rentals to be at least 30 days. Mayor Gregor Robertson estimated that there are now approximately 6,000 such illegal operations in the city.

Short-term rentals will not be allowed in secondary homes or secondary suites. Owners of those properties may find an opportunity if the city’s rental-vacancy rate soars to 4%, something that has not happened in many years.

If the rental-vacancy rate does hit 4%, however, city staff will be directed to look into allowing those homeowners to have short-term rentals, according to an amendment to the council motion.

City councillors passed the motion 7-4 with Non-Partisan Association councillors George Affleck, Elizabeth Ball, Melissa De Genova and Hector Bremner opposed.

Affleck told Business in Vancouver that he doubts city staff will have the time to effectively track Airbnb use. He’s also concerned that homeowners are forbidden from offering short-term secondary suite or laneway home rentals if the units are not their principal residence.

“As a single-family homeowner you should be able to make your decision about how you want to use your home,” he said.

“And, coupled with that, there were people who [spoke to council who] were clearly upset and concerned about the affordability of Vancouver. We have to take those people seriously and respect their concerns in this city.”

Some homeowners who spoke to council noted that they want to have short-term rentals as a way to help them pay their mortgages.

University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business professor Tom Davidoff told BIV that he is sympathetic to homeowners who have secondary units in their homes and are prohibited from renting them out.

“You don’t have to rent [secondary suites] out in order to avoid the empty homes tax,” Davidoff said. “How is it better to have an empty unit than an Airbnb unit for a secondary unit? I think that’s a mistake.”

He suggested that instead of banning short-term rentals in secondary suites, a better way to restrict them would be to tax them.

“The right way, generally, is not to ban activities but to tax them if you don’t like them,” Davidoff said.

As for Affleck, he suggested that instead of adding new taxes, the city could lower property taxes for homeowners who rent their homes to long-term tenants.

“George Affleck is a wonderful human being but that’s stupid,” Davidoff said. “We have ridiculously low property taxes. Cutting them further is a terrible, terrible idea.”