Vancouver to deploy 3 full-time staff to rein in short-term rental listings

Friday, July 7th, 2017

New full-time staff to monitor short-term rental data

Joanne Lee-Young
The Vancouver Sun

The City of Vancouver plans to dedicate three full-time staff positions, including an “enforcement co-ordinator,” to monitor data about short-term rentals that breach its new guidelines and, if necessary, pursue legal action against offenders.

It announced rules to curb short-term rentals and posted a staff report. The information will be presented to Vancouver council next week by Kaye Krishna, its general manager of development, buildings and licensing.

The city has offered a glimpse of how it intends to act on information about short-term rentals. Aside from the enforcement co-ordinator, there are budget lines for full-time salaries in 2018 for two other roles, an inspector and an administration/audit position.

Other cities grappling with the proliferation of short-term rental listings, especially through Airbnb, have also employed full-time staff to bolster efforts.

In Santa Monica, California, the city has two full-time enforcement officers and one analyst who collaborates. They sift through listings photos, compare details to determine addresses and then knock on doors to find potential rule-benders. In Paris, city staff have been described as carrying out raids in some of the more popular tourist areas to ferret out unregistered listings.

In Vancouver, the approach will be to receive a complaint about an unlicensed listing, with an address, and then to contact the operator, who will be asked to either halt renting or face legal action.

But the report said that one “enforcement co-ordinator would continuously monitor online … data, community complaints via 311 and data sets, including Home Owner Grant, Empty Homes Tax and compliance records.”

These would allow the co-ordinator to identify “suspected issues” and then “potentially complete an audit.”

He or she would work with the online rental platform, such as Airbnb, use screen-scraping technology to find names and addresses, and “work with property-use, building and/or fire inspections to inspect the unit in relation to the bylaws.”

There is an expectation that it might be challenging to find some non-complying operators just by using these tactics, “thereby requiring staff to collect evidence to determine the address and the operator’s identity.”

As in other cities faced with a shortage of units for long-term renters, along with skyrocketing homeownership costs, Vancouver is trying to strike a balance with its plan for dealing with short-term rental listings.

Homeowners and renters in principal residences will be allowed to rent out part or all of their homes to earn additional income. But there will be a ban on short-term (less than 30 days) rentals in secondary homes in an attempt to cut the number of so-called commercial hosts, some of which are companies with listings in the double-digits.

The city doesn’t permit short-term rentals of less than 30 days (except for licensed hotels and bed-and-breakfast operations), but the report estimates there are 5,927 short-term units posted on the likes of Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner.

The city report said that between an initial look at short-term rental listings in June 2016 and a second one in April 2017, areas including Marpole, southeast Vancouver and the west side/Kerrisdale saw more than a 35 per cent growth in listings.

Downtown, which has seen a higher concentration of these listings, saw no material change during this period, and there was a decline of 23 per cent in the West End/Stanley Park area.

Public complaints about short-term rentals are increasing, but are still rare, according to the report. In 2015, there were 19 complaints. In 2016, the number rose to 144, and, at the end of June 2017, there were 150. Some calls were related to other issues such as noise and safety, but the bulk were related to “suspected” short-term rentals.

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