B.C. considers mandatory reporting for short-term rentals

Policy work underway by the province is informed by a November report on short-term rentals from the B.C. Union of Municipalities, David Eby said

Photo: Klaus Vedfelt, Digital Vision, GettyImages

Attorney General and Housing Minister David Eby says it makes sense to require companies promoting short-term rentals through online platforms to share information with local governments.

If such a regulation was introduced by the province, it would see such companies face mandatory reporting requirements to ensure they shared data — about location, for example — about rentals with municipalities.

Local governments would be able to check the information against its list of permits for short-term rentals and carry out enforcement, Eby said in an interview.

“The [short-term rental] unit holders would get a permit from the city and the city could compare their permit list with the data provided from the companies to determine which ones were licensed and which ones weren’t, and do enforcement accordingly.

“That makes a lot of sense to me.”

Policy work underway by the province is informed by a November report on short-term rentals from the B.C. Union of Municipalities, Eby said. A joint UBCM-provincial advisory group made 13 recommendations for the province to consider, including requiring online platforms to share data.

There are challenges in this work given that companies can be international and there might be questions around jurisdiction, but “I think we are going to be ultimately successful,” he said.

A short-term rental is a booking of less than 30 consecutive days. A principal residence operator who rents out their entire home may occasionally rent their entire dwelling unit on a short-term basis. Stays of more than 30 days rental are considered long-term.

Cities can issue licences for short-term rentals and police that program, Eby said. But, “the challenge that they have, is that it is really hard to to enforce — it requires basically private detective work by neighbours or by bylaw officers and they just don’t have the capacity to do that.”

Many short-term rental offerings are not licensed by the city and not do reveal their addresses, putting a burden on the city of Victoria when it comes to enforcement.

As of Thursday, the City of Victoria has 585 short-term rentals licensed or pending approval. The website airdna, (airdna.co) which analyzes data for short-term rentals shows a far higher number of short-term rentals. It states there are 1,063 available listings within Victoria, indicating that hundreds are not licensed.

Victoria moved Thursday to add three staff to its four-person short-term-rental team, which is paid for by licensing fees.

The matter of short-term rentals is relevant to neighbours who may find the activity disturbing. Unlicensed units or houses may not pay the required municipal fees to operate, avoiding a levy that other commercial operations pay.

Most critical is the question of how the number of short-term rentals, some clustered in multi-family buildings in the city, affects the availability of affordable housing at a time when many residents have difficulty in finding a place to live.

Victoria, along with other communities in the province, faces a housing crisis.

Despite continuing multi-family construction in the capital region, many people are desperate to find a place to live. Social media posts highlight the desperation of individuals and families.

In its February rental report, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation put Victoria’s rental vacancy rate at an ultra-tight one per cent. The city has struggled with low vacancy rates for decades.

Victoria Coun. Stephen Andrew echoed calls for provincial rules insisting that short-term rental websites must post a copy of a municipal licence.

There are hundreds of short-term rental units which could be freed up if they were taken out of that pool, Andrew said.

Andrew said there is nothing wrong when some people want to make extra money.

“We are in a housing crisis and we’ve got to deal with it and this is just one part of it.”

The province needs to assess the matter, Andrew said. “As prescriptive as they plan to be on zoning, they need to be prescriptive on this issue and assist us in ensuring that we can open up these units for families to live in,” he said.

In February, Eby announced the province is considering legislation that would take some permit powers that local governments now hold in order to see more homes built in the province. This could see final decision-making for housing permit approvals move away from municipalities.

Not enough housing is being approved to meet population growth needs, Eby said, adding that B.C. might have to be more prescriptive because the status quo is not acceptable.

Victoria’s housing market is so tight that Andrew said there have been people who have signed agreements to work for the city but then had to back out because they could not find a home.

The region’s municipalities should work together by adopting similar legislation governing short-term rentals, he said. Otherwise, short-term rentals will be pushed into neighbouring municipalities, such as Esquimalt and Saanich.

Eby said during the pandemic, some operators pulled their short-term rentals out of that pool.

“We had a bit of a reprieve from the impact of short-term rentals on long-term rentals, and that was because the tourists disappeared and a lot of people converted what were previously short-term rentals into longer-term rentals and it had a really positive, apparent impact on housing availability.”

He believes that carefully policing short-term rentals could improve the availability of longer-term rental housing.

As far as limiting the number of short-term rentals, Eby said municipalities are in the best position to make that determination. It will vary by city.

“Some cities are very much vacation destinations and short-term rentals are a key part of their economic strategy,” he said.

“They also have to balance that with housing for the workers and the tourism industry, and they’ve really struggled with that.”

The province has funded municipalities throughout B.C. to study housing needs, he said.

Times Colonist