Toronto’s Airbnb regulation approach snubbed by consumer critic

Toronto’s decision to block short-term rental operators from listing secondary suites on platforms like Airbnb has spurred strong reactions from all angles of the conversation.

Council voted 27-17 in favour of blocking secondary suites, in addition to voting 40-3 in favour of requiring short-term rental operators to register with the city last week.

“It’s a bad solution to a fix a real problem,” David Clement, North American affairs manager for the Consumer Choice Center, told after the council vote, referring to council’s decision about secondary suites. “There’s a real housing shortage in the city, but going after secondary Airbnb suites isn’t going to be an effective strategy for increasing the amount of affordable housing.”

Clement said the majority of secondary suites are often referred to as “dead capital,” units that don’t enter the long-term rental market and rely specifically on the short-term.

He pointed to an example of a family with a basement apartment that is used by their son who attends university.

“He goes to school from September to April or May, and they rent that unit out on Airbnb while he’s at school,” said Clement. “There’s no real long-term option for that unit.”

There are 16 websites offering rentals in Toronto that meet the city’s short-term rental criteria, with a combined total of approximately 20,000 listings.

Companies with more than 300 listings include Airbnb, Trip Advisor, Expedia, Kijiji, and FlipKey.

Of all Airbnb listings, 72 per cent were in condominiums, apartments or lofts. Fifty-three per cent of all listings were downtown, according to a November report submitted to council.

The number of short-term listings on Airbnb have tripled in Toronto from 2014 to 2016, and in 2016, 10,800 properties were rented through the company in the city.

Toronto is open to new types of technologies and innovation, said Coun. Ana Bailao, who moved the motion last week, but it can’t come at the cost of the city’s housing needs.

She said there are about 70,000 secondary suites in Toronto, and they need to be protected.

“This is a complex issue. One of our major challenges in attracting talent to this city is housing. Ensuring we’re not bleeding any more units is a good start I think,” she said.

Coun. Gord Perks said most Torontonians are happy about council’s motion on secondary units.

“They’re aware how difficult it is to get rental housing in the city right now,” he said, adding council recently directed its staff to expand its shelter systems and develop incentives for developers to build affordable housing.

“We do have a housing crisis in the City of Toronto,” he said.

Clement suggested the tourism investment generated by short-term rental units is being overlooked.

“There is a significant amount of tourist investment that occurs in areas that otherwise wouldn’t see tourists. For example, in Toronto, you have an Airbnb unit in the junction, now people going out to dinner will be doing that in the High Park area rather than sticking with the popular circles downtown,” he said.

An Ipsos poll from May says most Toronto residents are open to short-term rentals in most types of properties, with the highest support for secondary residences at 67 per cent. Fifty-six per cent of residents say basement or secondary suites should be allowed to put on listings.

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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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