Regulating AirBnB

The City staff report on the Rental Accommodations Study can be viewed here. The specific recommendations for short-term rentals (e.g. AirBnB) here. The Recommendations included a proposal for a registration regime to better regulate AirBnBs, something our office supported, and something that we had committed to fight for during the 2018 election campaign. 

AirBnBs operating outside of principal residences have always been against zoning in residential zones. The City has had trouble enforcing its existing rules, which is a primary reason the review underpinning these proposed reforms was undertaken and is one of the major problems these proposed reforms are attempting to address. There has been some confusion as to what constitutes a principal residence. To clarify, secondary dwelling units do not count, e.g. dwelling units in a duplex or triplex other than the one occupied by the host, i.e. the 'principal occupant' operating a short-term rental business.

Illegally operating AirBnBs are of great concern, not simply because they disrespect our zoning bylaw,  nor because we are concerned about the hotel industry’s bottom line (we are not); the most concerning aspect of the emergence of AirBnBs is that they are contributing to the affordable housing crisis. We are also concerned about the disturbances they have caused neighbours in our residential areas. 

The proposed registration regime will allow the city to enforce its longstanding residential zoning rules and will allow the city to have more consistent and enforceable rules for AirBnBs outside of residential zones. The proposed regulations do, however, extend the legality of AirBnBs in residential zones by changing the zoning to allow for hosts to rent their principle residence through AirBnB even when they are not on site (currently this is also a breach of zoning, but not enforced). We will continue to work with staff to ensure that the new zoning language and registration regime do not create loopholes to be exploited. 

We zone areas of the City as residential (and others as commercial) to ensure that land is specifically set aside for housing our residents. Residential zoning is a cornerstone of our city and should be treated as such. Using this earmarked land to run a commercial operation for tourists is not just a breach of long-standing bylaw, but a threat to our City’s ability to ensure its residents are housed affordably. Many investment/income properties (be they stand-alone properties or secondary dwelling units) that are currently being used as AirBnBs will return to the long-term rental market, therefore ameliorating our City's low vacancy rate, which has a mitigatory impact on the rate at which rents are rising in Ottawa. In short, these reforms will help stem the increasing unaffordability of housing in Ottawa.

There was concern over whether the new regulations will hold up against a legal challenge (which has since come to pass), but the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal has ruled against a challenge to a similar regulatory framework in the City of Toronto. This bodes well for the legal sustainability of the City of Ottawa's proposed framework.

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