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More than a third of the city’s 21,000 Airbnb listings would disappear if the city’s short-term rental bylaws take effect. Those are the units operated by landlords with multiple listings that violate a key provision that would require hosts of short-term rentals to be the principal occupant of the home, according to the testimony of a McGill University researcher, who appeared before a tribunal considering an appeal of council’s approved rules.
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Planning professor David Wachsmuth, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Urban Governance, has led academic studies of the impact of Airbnb in several cities, including Toronto.
It is impossible that landlords who rent out multiple homes or many individual rooms in a single home, or those who rent out an entire unit year round, are the principal residents of those housing units, he told the province’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT).
They account for more than a third of the listings in Toronto and most of the $214 million a year in revenue by short-term rentals in the country’s largest market, said Wachsmuth.
Those commercial short-term landlords have grown from about a quarter of the total listings and a third of the revenue about two years ago.
Hearings to begin in landlords’ appeal over Toronto rules for Airbnb, other short-term rentals
The teal front door of Serena Purdy’s white house leads the eye straight down one of Kensington Market’s quirky little laneways where pots of lavender and herbs adorn her stoop. It’s more of a graffiti-covered alley than residential street. But PhD student Purdy, who has lived there for 16 years, remembers it was alive with neighbours only a year ago, a close community that rallied in crisis and celebration. Last Tuesday afternoon, the only passerby is pulling a wheeled suitcase. Familiar friends and local artists who once occupied the buildings surrounding her house have been displaced by tourists and strangers occupying what are now short-term rentals.
“We have a lot of evidence to support the idea that we would still have a thriving short-term rental sector after the bylaws, but it would be one focused on casual home-sharing arrangements,” he said.
Without talking to the landlords, it is impossible to know for sure how many long-term housing units have been lost to the short-term rental market, Wachsmuth told the tribunal.
But he estimates that about 5,300 short-term rentals could be returned to the housing stock.
That is based on the listings of 4,600 entire homes.
Less is known about how private rooms contribute to housing loss, he said.
But a computer application that uses image-recognition to identify listings for single rooms that feature the same living area and common features is now shedding light on the issue of single rooms effectively been converted into a “ghost hostel.”
“We estimate there are 745 housing units in Toronto which have been subdivided this way. Because they have been subdivided, there are many more than 745 listings on Airbnb,” he said. “We see a 25-per-cent-growth rate in this estimate of housing loss over the last year.”
Airbnb hosts, short-term rental critics facing off over regulations at appeal hearing
A years-long battle over how to regulate short-term rentals in Toronto is continuing this week at the province's Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, with some arguing the city's proposed rules are a "deflection" from policymakers' attempts to fix an ongoing affordable housing shortage. The regulations, which focus on the short-term rentals available through companies such as Airbnb and Vrbo, were approved by council in 2018. Multiple hosts appealed the rules before they could be put into place.
“Returning these units to the long-term market would, in the short-term, roughly speaking, double the available (suuply) of vacant, for-rent aparments,” he said.
“In the long-term, that vacancy rate would not remain double, because those units would be absorbed into the rental market, and it’s also possible some of those would end up as owner-occupied housing, particularly the condo portion.”
Although he appeared at the tribunal as a witness for Fairbnb, a pro-regulation coalition of tenant advocates, the hotel industry and condo boards, Wachsmuth said he would not describe himself as “anti-Airbnb.”
Lawyer Sarah Cormac, who represents landlord Alexis Leino, one of the operators who launched the LPAT appeal, and whose legal fees are being paid by Airbnb, asked if Wachsmuth would adopt Fairbnb’s statements generally.
“I couldn’t speak to all of them. I don’t know what they ar,e but I agree with you that I’m aware that it’s kind of implied in the name that they’re taking an oppositional stance there,” he said.
He also stressed that his research is peer-reviewed and published in reputable planning journals.
Could new Airbnb rules discourage legal secondary suites?
Desiree Narciso bought her late-1800s house in 1992. She and her family live on the second and third storeys. The first floor is rented to a long-term tenant for $2,700 a month and the basement operates as an Airbnb that can be used as one apartment or separated into two units that rent for between $90 and $160 a night each. The rental income has helped Narciso recover from devastating flooding and structural problems that have forced her to practically rebuild the place in recent years, she told a provincial tribunal that is hearing an appeal of the city’s approved short-term rental accommodations.
A memo sent to reporters by Airbnb on Friday during Wachsmuth’s testimony said he “has a long history of working with the hotel industry on anti-Airbnb initiatives and reports, putting in doubt any claims he makes of presenting an unbiased view on short-term rentals.”
It went on to say that his research “is frequently riddled with methodological errors that allow him to draw unsubstantiated conclusions about the Airbnb community.”
Wachsmuth says it is important that secondary suites be treated as the principal residence of a long-term tenant when it comes to renting them out for short-term stays.
In a scenario where the regulations were approved, but an exception remained, for secondary suites, those units would become the only source of entire-home rentals on short-term accommodation platforms, he said.
Whole home rentals dominate the short-term rental market in Toronto and elsewhere, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the revenue earned, said Wachsmuth. He said there are enough home owners willing to rent their principal residence to fill the demand that would be vacated by those commercial rental operators.
The LPAT hearings continue on Tuesday.
Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter:
Bonavista cuts off services for Airbnb operators with unpaid tax bills.
The Town of Bonavista is getting tougher in its attempts to collect taxes from Airbnbs popping up in the popular tourist destination. The mayor of Bonavista says said the town is taxing Airbnbs at the town's business rate, using the property's assessed value, to create a level playing field with owners of accommodations that are registered as businesses. "They are not registered businesses so it's kind of hard to go after them when you don't know their revenue and the value of their business so we have had to come up with our own formula," said John Norman.
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