More than half of all short-term rentals in Vancouver now licensed

As of Nov. 30 there were more than 4,500 active short-term rental listings in the city

In the three months since Vancouver’s short-term rental regulations took full effect the city has issued more than 120 tickets, is proceeding with legal action against another 17 listings and continues to see more than half of all active listings in the city licenced.

“We’re continuing to see approximately 70 per cent of all active listings have a licence,” Kathryn Holm, chief licence inspector, told the Courier. “That’s unprecedented. We can see in our research around the globe and to see a 70 per cent compliance rate so soon after the program launch is unprecedented.”

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She attributed the program’s success to the “low barrier application process,” the four month registration period and the city’s agreement with Airbnb.

“Airbnb and Expedia, the platforms representing over 90 per cent of the Vancouver market, made significant efforts to educate and support their hosts in getting into compliance with our new rules,” Holm said.

The week before the new regulations went into effect the city and Airbnb announced an agreement that the platform require hosts to include a business licence number in listings in its website, and on Sept. 1 the company deactivated 2,400 listings that did not contain a licence. Since then Expedia, the second-largest platform in Vancouver, also agreed to add a field for hosts to include a business licence to listings on its VRBO vacation rental.

According to the City of Vancouver, as of Nov. 30 there were 4,589 active short-term rental listings in the city (down from 6,600 in April) and 3,161 short-term rental licences issued. And as of Dec. 9, staff had opened more than 1,600 case files and pursued a variety of “enforcement actions” against suspected unlicensed short-term rental units, including:

  • 363 investigations and audits
  • 304 warning letters
  • 132 legal orders issued
  • 126 tickets issued
  • 59 units identified for inspection
  • Three licences suspended
  • 837 case files closed

Holm said a case file could be closed for a couple reasons — either the listing was removed, or the operator obtained a licence. She also said that in some cases there was not enough evidence to pursue an investigation.

“For us to pursue an investigation or enforcement we need an online listing and we need an actual address, down to a suite number, so if we don’t have that degree of information to pursue enforcement we close the case file at this time,” Holm said.

She said the focus of enforcement over the last three months has really been on the more egregious operators who have chosen to continue to list an unlicensed property. So far, 12 case files involving commercial operators with a total of 89 listings have been referred to the prosecutor’s office.

Five of those cases, representing 17 listings, are proceeding to court. One case involving 35 listings is currently under review and another six cases and undergoing additional investigation.

Adopted in November 2017, the city’s new short-term rental regulations went into effect in April and new and existing hosts had until Aug. 31 to obtain a licence and comply with the regulations. In its latest update issued Dec. 10, the city said its efforts “to remove illegal units from the short-term rental market are helping to provide more housing for long-term renters.”

Holm, however, said it’s hard to say specifically how many units have been turned into long-term rentals.

“We are seeing evidence of listings that previously were for less than 30 days are now listed for only 30 days or more, so we are seeing that conversion, if that’s the right word, happening but to actually put concrete numbers to it is challenging at this point in our program but it’s something we’re continuing to work on, how we can evolve to track that better,” she said.

Residents are encouraged to report suspected illegal short-term rentals either by calling 311, completing an online form at vancouver.ca/short-term-rentals, or submitting a report through the VanConnect app. Any report should include the address with unit number, if applicable, and the listing URL.

@JessicaEKerr

jkerr@vancourier.com

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