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MoneyA real-estate entrepreneur, a PhD graduate, a former trader: These are some key players in Toronto’s short-term rental market

18:26  23 april  2019
18:26  23 april  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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graduate , a former trader : These are some key players in Toronto ’ s short - term rental market . Among them are a savvy real - estate entrepreneur pioneering the short - term market , a business, a University of Toronto PhD graduate with multiple online identities and two brothers who crack the top

A real - estate entrepreneur , a PhD graduate , a former trader : These are some key players in Toronto ’ s short - term rental market . Lau’s strategy faltered by 2010 and he failed to disclose to investors that it was losing money, the agreement reads. The OSC banned him from trading securities

A real-estate entrepreneur, a PhD graduate, a former trader: These are some key players in Toronto’s short-term rental market© Provided by Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

The short-term rental industry has become a magnet for a mixed bag of industrial-scale landlords. Among them are a savvy real-estate entrepreneur pioneering the short-term market, a former trader who is using his earnings to repay investors who lost money in his investment business, a University of Toronto PhD graduate with multiple online identities and two brothers who crack the top 10 list of Toronto Airbnb hosts.

We analyzed data from the independent research site insideairbnb.com. It showed more than 20,000 short-term rentals are listed on Airbnb in Toronto. Almost 13,000 of these rentals are for entire homes, with over 1,700 hosts listing more than one.

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And it’s growing — bringing with it concern from housing experts who say the Airbnb revolution is contributing to Toronto’s housing crisis by replacing long-term rentals for Torontonians with short-term rentals for tourists and visitors.

Emil Joseph, “Emil & Sue” (Rank: 1 with 96 Airbnb listings)

Toronto’s top “ghost hotel” username — “Emil & Sue” — is actually run by Emil Joseph, founder of property management company Olivia’s Housing. The company specializes in corporate housing, especially for business consultants, pro athletes, entertainers, or those temporarily without a home due to fire or flooding, said Joseph in an interview.

“The smaller the niche, the bigger the profit. So we carve ourselves out where we got contracts with the big companies — Exxon/Esso,” he said. “They pay us a retainer. If they have a client that comes to Toronto, they stay in one of our apartments.”

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Joseph says he posts the same listings multiple times so they appear higher in search results.

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“You might see people with five or six listings — for sure people out there are like us who have three of the same,” he said.

“So the 96 listings is actually 32 listings,” says Joseph.

Nevertheless, this “corporate housing” is eating into regular rental stock.

“What we find is that people will under-price their apartments … obviously we can’t afford to rent it out for $60 to $70 (a night) because we gotta pay the people that own the property.”

Nixon Lau, “Toronto Suite Rentals” Inc. (Rank: 2 with 79 Airbnb listings)

Nixon Lau’s short-term rental business on Airbnb is helping him repay $1 million to 22 former investors who fell victim to his fraudulent investment firm.

In 2007, Lau started trading securities through his company Income Strategix Holdings despite not being registered with the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), according to a 2017 settlement agreement between the OSC and Lau.

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Through a series of seminars in the Greater Toronto area, a website, and one-on-one or group meetings, Lau sought investments from the public. By 2012, more than 70 individuals and family investors had more than $5.4 million in Income Strategix funds based on promises of “superior returns” with an investment strategy that would “make money in any market condition, up, down, or sideways,” the settlement agreement reads.

Lau’s strategy faltered by 2010 and he failed to disclose to investors that it was losing money, the agreement reads.

The OSC banned him from trading securities while permitting him to repay defrauded investors through real-estate commissions or revenue generated from property management.

“I was 27 years old when I initiated an investment club that led to the activities outlined in the OSC settlement agreement. I am very remorseful about my past activities,” Lau said in a statement issued through his lawyer.

“I have worked extremely hard over the last years to make these repayments. Making these repayments has been my top priority. I am committed to continue my hard work until the repayments to all investors are complete.”

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OSC spokesperson Kristen Rose confirmed that Lau has “thus far complied with the repayment terms set out in the settlement agreement. We continue to monitor his compliance with the repayment terms.”

As far as his short-term rentals are concerned, Lau says in his statement that many of his clients stay an average of three months.

“For some, it is just not feasible to sign a one-year lease. There are many reasons why people need short-term accommodation such as completing a business project, visiting family, or moving between homes.”

A story reported in the Star said Toronto Suite Rentals earned $1.34 million on Airbnb in 2016.

“Mina” Rafiei, PhD and host of three Airbnb accounts (Rank: 7 host with 35 Airbnb listings)

Mina Rafiei, a PhD graduate from the University of Toronto, has at least three Airbnb accounts — a violation of the company’s rules. Until receiving questions from the Star, the accounts were listed under the username “Mina.”

Airbnb’s terms of service dictate that users can register only one account unless otherwise authorized — a policy designed to prevent fraud.

An Airbnb spokesperson said the company suspended Rafiei’s multiple accounts.

Listing a property multiple times on the site — often with slightly differing amenities or prices — is a way of gaming Airbnb’s search engine to rank the listing higher in search results.

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As a savvy Airbnb host, “Mina” lists the same property twice using different co-hosts. The obvious strategy of the double post: Drive up the booking rate.

The two listings have different features — such as different price, ability to book instantly without waiting for host approval, etc.

Rafiei declined comment.

Shahzaib and Kamran Mayani, Royal Stays Canada and Executive Furnished (Rank: 8 and 9 hosts with 58 Airbnb listings between them)

While Shahzaib Mayani is a top player in the Toronto Airbnb rental business helping his brother, Kamran, set up shop, they believe strongly in regulation and oversight.

“I would want some regulation here,” said Shahzaib in an interview. “It will flush out a lot of people who are actually doing it illegally. From the first day, my company has been registered. I’ve been paying taxes on time … There are a lot of people who are not even telling their landlord and they’re doing short-term rentals … (The city) should have a quota for (corporate rentals).”

Shahzaib and his wife, Kanwal Jiwan, founded Royal Stays Canada as university students. Shahzaib, who was studying in Montreal, was forced to find temporary accommodation whenever he visited Jiwan, who was living with her parents in Toronto.

After graduation, the couple incorporated Royal Stays Canada Inc., which offers short-term rentals across southern Ontario. Although they use Airbnb to list their properties, they say the majority of their clients are employees of large corporations, such as IBM.

Royal Stays Canada enters into long-term agreements with property-owners looking to lease their units for short-term rentals.

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They acknowledge they manage investment properties that are not the primary residences of their clients and thus are available year-round.

“We don’t do weekenders … we focus our energy on corporate housing, medical tourists or new immigrants who don’t have credit scores and cannot afford to sign year-long rentals,” says Jiwan adding that medical tourists account for a small fraction of their bookings.

Business became so lucrative that the couple helped Kamran, Shahzaib’s older sibling, set up his operations at Executive Furnished Properties. Royal Stays Canada has also expanded to the United States and Australia.

(Lindsey Vodarek is a communications and social policy expert who explores issues of income and housing with a human rights lens. Swathi Meenakshi Sadagopan is a senior consultant on the data analytics team at Deloitte Canada and has a Master’s degree in electrical engineering. They are Fellows in Global Journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto.)

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