Airbnb and North Shore renters

Airbnb is in the news a lot lately, following is an opinion piece from Elizabeth James (former contributing writer for the North Shore News):  

At the time this is written, delegates to the 2016 convention of the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) are about to discuss issues raised by the proliferation of Airbnb short-term rentals throughout British Columbia. Details of those discussions are not yet available, so the following is just one person’s view of the current situation.

Note: This article is presented ‘in general’. Each of our North Shore municipalities has its own set of bylaws and regulations so you may need to modify my comments to fit your own neighbourhood.

The most obvious issue so far concerns the effect Airbnb rentals may be having on the availability of affordable housing in the wider Metro Vancouver region.

Should we sympathize with a homeowner who welcomes the Airbnb short-term rental income to help them stay afloat in today’s economy? Or should we save our concern for our seniors and young people who are left without a place to call home when, legally or otherwise, those units are taken out of the year-round pool of rental accommodations?

A review of the Airbnb site shows that some hosts own multiple properties that operate as a full-fledged ‘chain’ of short-term rentals. Is that what we want to see in our so-called single family neighbourhoods? In other words, wherever the accommodation is located, Airbnb hosts are operating businesses.

Although Airbnb claims their accommodations have a positive effect, as some Lynn Valley residents can attest, the constant coming and going and parking problems caused by the ever-changing faces of the ‘people next door’ doesn’t foster a stable, secure and friendly feeling of community.

Which leads us to other issues that are overdue for closer examination – issues that relate to whether or not municipalities have any say over where and how many Airbnb rentals are located. If not, your municipality may have lost control over some of its zoning and land-use by-laws, permit fees and tax revenues.

Just as concerning is that, for good or ill and absent due process, the character of some North Shore neighbourhoods is being altered, perhaps irretrievably. If that’s the case for you and you don’t like what you see, why not check with your other neighbours and/or plead your case to Staff and Council before it’s too late for them to take action.

Some questions in need of answers:

Did the Airbnb host(s) on your street apply for a municipal business permit?

Have they been inspected and approved as an when as necessary?

Are they paying the fees as required for their annual business licence?

Those questions are relevant because, under the authority of the Community Charter of British Columbia, all three municipalities have enacted strict regulations covering secondary suites, duplexes and Bed and Breakfast operations.

As one example: The District of North Vancouver allows a straightforward B&B in single family residential zones but Divides them into Class 1(up to 3 bedrooms and 6 patrons) and Class 2 (4-6 bedrooms). Both classes are required to provide a specified number of off-street parking spaces.

Most importantly, Class 2 units require Council approval and a public meeting at which neighbours may voice their support or opposition to the application. Class 2 also requires a wide array of working, Code-specified safety features before a permit will be issued.

Again in the District, an annual B&B licence fee is required – $63 per B&B room.

According to an advertisement currently running on local television, 60 per cent of Airbnb hosts use the income they earn to help pay their mortgages or rents. So the closing questions for now are: Is Airbnb licensed to do business in the jurisdictions in which it operates? Are all of its hosts licensed to do business in their municipalities and, last but not least, are they declaring their revenues for income tax purposes?

Stay tuned for UBCM announcements. Your comments would be welcome.

Elizabeth James

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