B.C. Increases Violation Fines, Requires Sharing of Data for Short-Term Rentals

B.C. has put in place new legislation to help municipalities regulate short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb, which provincial and municipal leaders say is affecting the availability and price of long-term housing.

The new rules passed first reading in the B.C. Legislature Monday and include increasing fines for hosts breaking local municipal bylaw rules to $3,000 per infraction, per day, from $1,000.

All short-term rental platforms will also be required to share data with municipalities to improve local enforcement, although no private information about hosts will be released publicly.

In addition, all short-term rental platforms will have to include business licence and registration numbers of listings where they are required by a local government, and must remove listings without those requirements quickly.

The province says the new rules, which will come into effect in stages from now through late 2024, are meant to create a minimum regulatory standard for housing available for rent for fewer than 30 days across the province.

B.C. Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the rules are meant to target operators who rent out multiple units over the short-term in residences where they do not live themselves.

"Operators with multiple listings are taking homes off the long-term market to make big profits while people pay the price — it can't go on like this," he said.

Short-term rental listings on online platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO, Expedia and FlipKey have expanded rapidly since the COVID-19 pandemic and are now at an all-time high, according to the province.

The province said there are around 28,000 daily active short-term rental listings in B.C., which is an increase of 20 per cent from a year ago. Data indicates that more than 16,000 entire homes are being listed as short-term rentals for the majority of a calendar year, according to provincial officials.

The legislation limits short-term rentals to within a host's home, or a basement suite or laneway home on the property where they reside.

More than a dozen resort municipalities, mountain resort areas, electoral areas including the Gulf Islands, and most municipalities with a population under 10,000 people will initially be exempt from a principal residence requirement but can opt in if the local government decides to.

Some municipalities such as Vancouver already have more stringent rules but struggle to enforcement them.

"We have said we need more support when it comes to enforcement and we are pleased to see the province introduce these changes, with more significant consequences for those who seek to abuse the system," said Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim as part of a provincial release.

The new changes also include a new provincial short-term rental compliance and enforcement unit, but the province did not provide a timeline or budget for that. It said it would be modelled after the Residential Tenancy Branch's unit, which has 10 members.

The increased fines for municipal bylaw infractions went into effect on Monday. The legislation also now allows regional districts to require business licences from hosts in communities where there was no mechanism for it before.

On May 1, 2024, the principal resident requirement will come into force along with the requirement for business licences to be displayed on platforms. Also in effect on May 1, 2024 are changes that close loopholes that allowed short-term rental hosts to operate under pre-existing municipal rules.

Next summer, short-term rental platforms will have to share data with the province and a provincial registry for platforms will be mandatory by late 2024.

David Wachsmuth, the Canada research chair in urban governance at McGill University, said in a statement that the new policy will set a new Canadian standard.

"These are sensible, evidence-based rules that are going to prioritize the needs of B.C. residents and get available rental housing back on the long-term market where it belongs.''

'Give me a break'

Helping municipalities better regulate short-term rentals was part of Kahlon's mandate letter from December 2022.

Short-term rentals in cities like Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna have come under scrutiny for several reasons including the argument that they siphon housing from municipalities already struggling to provide long-term, stable rentals to residents.

Airbnb says its platform allows residents in cities with expensive real estate help pay their mortgages. It does not agree with studies that show short-term rentals contribute to overall rent increases.

Alex Howell, a policy manager with Airbnb in Canada, said the new provincial rules will harm property owners trying to afford life in the province and communities that rely on revenue from tourism.

"The B.C. government's proposed legislation won't alleviate the province's housing concerns, instead it will take money out of the pockets of British Columbians, make travel more unaffordable for millions of residents who travel within B.C., and reduce tourism spending in communities where hosts are often the only providers of local accommodations."

Speaking on Monday morning Eby told CBC News short-term rentals are contributing to the province's housing crisis.

"I mean, give me a break," he said. "Not a single person finds it credible in British Columbia in any way that short-term rentals haven't eroded long-term rentals in this province."

"Bottom line is when people own multiple condos and are renting them out as private hotels in our province when we are desperate for long-term housing for people, it's just not acceptable. So we're going to deal with it."

Original article from cbc.ca