BC’s small towns struggling with housing crunch triggered by online short-term rentals


Nelson is just one of scores of communities struggling to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb.

Mayors and councillors from across BC jammed a meeting room at the Union of BC Municipalities convention today to compare notes on the unprecedented housing crisis they face as a result of the explosion of online short-term rentals.

From resort communities unable to house seasonal workers to destination cities like Victoria with a zero vacancy rate, all agreed provincial action is needed to level the playing field by extending existing hotel and provincial taxes to online platform hosts.

That’s a simple step Finance Minister Mike DeJong has so far declined to take.

Some notes from the front line:

  • in Nelson, Mayor Deb Kozak took action when arriving students at Selkirk College found no vacancies, short-term rentals soared to more than 120 and speculators boasted of buying up homes to convert to online rental. A new bylaw, much like Vancouver’s proposed rules, will hold the number of units to about 110 in the summer, but only 40 when students are on the hunt for accommodation;
  • in Tofino, Mayor Josie Osborne led a major overhaul of rules that had been in place since 2002 to rein in a runaway short-term rental market that wiped out worker accommodation. The new rules improved compliance, but Tofino is now focusing on the unlicensed listings: the city believes 226 units are listed, but only 149 are licensed.
  • in Victoria, where 2,000 units are listed online, Tourism Victoria CEO Paul Nursey can’t recruit high-paid tourism marketers because they can’t find a place to live. Victoria, too, is bringing in a regulatory regime similar to Vancouver’s.

Mayors and councillors from Penticton, Invermere, Comox, Courtenay and Fernie were quick to add their tales of woe during the question period.

Right across BC, tourism industry leaders are worried about the impact of online STR (short-term rental) services.

The impacts fall into five areas, says Tourism BC’s Walt Judas: pressure on civic services, safety and security for existing residents, uneven taxation, pressure on affordable housing and elimination of housing stock for seasonal workers.

A key step the province can take, says James Chase, of the BC Hotels Association, is a simple change to current regulations that exempt hosts from provincial sales and hotel tax if they rent four rooms or fewer. It can be removed at the stroke of a pen by cabinet.

Collecting this tax at point of sale, by the online platform, would level the playing field and simplify enforcement for municipalities.


School closures: it’s time for VSB staff to explain why enrolment will fall as family units, density rise


Graham Bruce is just one school threatened with closure where population is growing.

Now that provincial education minister Mike Bernier has suddenly eliminated the 95 percent capacity requirement from the school funding debate, it’s time to challenge Vancouver School Board’s claim that enrolment will stagnate or fall in neighbourhoods where density is rising.

That contradiction is painfully clear in the case of Graham Bruce Elementary in Joyce-Collingwood, where literally hundreds of new units, including two- and three-bedroom units, are under construction or already approved.

No wonder Vision Vancouver trustees Mike Lombardi, Patti Bacchus, Joy Alexander and Allan Wong are tabling a motion at Monday’s school board meeting requiring VSB staff to reconcile their numbers with Vancouver city staff.

As a compelling brief by Graham Bruce parents points out, the VSB “actually asserts a declining enrolling student population in the catchment” although the city has just approved a plan for the area around Joyce Collingwood Skytrain station that will ultimately see “six new 30-storey high rise apartments, six new 15-storey mid-size apartments, new social housing, plus numerous four to six-storey apartments and the rezoning of entire city blocks for townhouses and duplexes.”

The brief includes an analysis of probable enrolment growth by Urban Futures, a consulting firm retained by NDP MLA Adrian Dix. (A similar report on Gladstone Secondary with testimonials from parents is here.)

Until the VSB numbers add up, it’s hard to understand how any school closure could be considered.

Vancouver tenant gives her perspective on short-term rental issue, pro and con

rentAfter a week that included meetings with Airbnb officials and Vancouver Airbnb hosts, this e-mail arrived  in my inbox from a tenant setting out exactly the issues council will have to contend with when it adopts new regulations.

Should multiple-unit hosts — effectively commercial operators — be allowed at all? And how much weight should council put, if any, on the income generation aspect of short-term rentals?

I’ve withheld the tenant’s name to protect her anonymity:

I have many friends who rent out their apartments using Airbnb. Some of these friends have entered into multiple leasing agreements primarily to rent out their downtown properties using the platform. These units are not occupied permanently, they are just for rentals. My friends as you can imagine have made a small windfall from this “venture”; enough to quit their day jobs. I believe this is an abuse of Airbnb given Vancouver’s vacancy problem, but of course I don’t voice my thoughts.

On the other hand, I rent a two-bedroom affordable housing unit in Gastown, a project in part funded by the city. I am not allowed to use Airbnb even innocently, for the purpose it was intended, short-term rentals. My landlord will threaten eviction if I even attempt to.

Since I am away from my apartment a few times per year for short durations (2 days to 1 week), mainly for work trips, I would find it extremely useful to be able to rent out my unit using a reputable platform that verifies guests, such as Airbnb. I have struggled so much financially as a single parent of a 4 year-old (due mainly to expensive rental and daycare costs combined with no child support), that we are often unable to buy groceries. I have no family help in the city so I must pay for an overnight babysitter whenever I have to be away for work. Because of this, I’m in the red. I wish that the city would permit ALL Vancouverites who rent to be able to use Airbnb for its intended purpose.

As you know, Vancouver is very unaffordable for young people and families. Giving us the rights to rent our apartments within limits would help so many. My friends are getting ahead tremendously because their landlords allow them to rent their units; on the other hand, someone like myself who really could use the extra income, is denied.

Thanks so much for hearing my story.

Best of luck with the new regulations,


Landlord BC urging new incentives for rental construction as solution to housing crunch

IMG_1149Rental housing and the rights of tenants are shaping up as two big issues emerging in the run-up to the 2017 provincial election campaign.

Landlord BC today condemned the bidding wars for rental housing that are breaking out in near-zero vacancy conditions and called for new federal and provincial incentives to build rental housing.

It was incentives of that sort that produced much of the forty-year old multi-unit residential rental stock that forms the bulk today’s affordable rental housing.

Landlord BC’s release also demands government commitments to allow landlords to pass through rent increases driven by renovation and upgrades, a sore point with tenants facing dislocation in the process.

The City of Vancouver’s Renters Advisory Committee issued its own set of renter-friendly recommendations for legislative change late last year in a report endorsed by city council. The renters, not surprisingly, want better protection against “renoviction” and renovation-driven rent increases.

While the two sets of recommendations are often in conflict, the city committee and Landlord BC agree on the need for an overhaul of the residential tenancy laws, setting the stage for an important debate during the election campaign.