An update on the City of Edmonton's attempts to better regulate Airbnb-style short-term rentals.
This week, the Urban Planning Committee (UPC) met to revisit the issue of short-term rentals, and consider recommendations from City Administration on changes to the Bylaw. Of all the options considered, including development permit requirements, taxation/levies, affordable housing and tourism fees, and license suspension/removal thresholds, Administration endorsed only one new measure: requiring hosts to include their business license number in advertisements of their properties.
Strong Representation From All Sides
Nearly two dozen individuals registered to speak in Council Chamber this week, including:
- Property owners who use Airbnb and other online platforms to rent out their properties on a short-term basis
- Owners of traditional hotels, and
- City residents who have been directly, and in some cases, negatively impacted by the operation of short-term rentals in their neighbourhood.
At least two residents from Garneau spoke about their experiences surrounding a stabbing in one such property last fall.
Representatives were also present from AirBnB, Edmonton Destination Marketing Hotels, the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association, and the newly created Edmonton Short-Term Rentals Association, among others. Almost every speaker was critical of the report prepared by the City Administration.
Evaluating The Facts
In some respects, the report was somewhat lacking. For example, the Administration cited 96 complaints related to short-term rentals being received in 2019. When pressed about this figure by dubious city councillors, it was revealed the number did not include complaints concerning excessive noise or criminality. These complaints were instead routed to Edmonton Police Service (EPS) directly rather than through 311. No information was provided on the number of complaints received by EPS.
The UPC was also concerned about protecting the emerging short-term rental industry. They want to avoid reactionary, overzealous regulation that could drive the industry underground before the City has an opportunity to collect sufficient data. However, other municipalities in Canada are moving ahead with more robust regulation (see the proposals in Ottawa, and the existing rules in Vancouver and Toronto, for example). The UPC's ultimate goal appears to be to find a balance between the right of a property owner to rent out his property, and the rights of the neighbours who ultimately bear the burden for the activities of unruly guests and irresponsible hosts.
Are Entire-House/Unit Rentals A Greater Risk?
It also distinguished between owner-occupied models of short-term accommodation and entire-house/unit rentals, which make up a significant portion of the total number of such rentals currently available in Edmonton. Almost invariably, complaints seem to concern rentals where the owner is not on-site and resides elsewhere. True home-sharing, where the owner or a long-term tenant resides on the same property as the rental, has fewer hallmarks of commerciality. In contrast, owners of multiple, entire-home rentals appear more engaged in business activity. These property owners are primarily investors, and councillors appropriately questioned why the City of Edmonton should "de-risk" these investments with lax regulation?
Councillors were also concerned about levelling the playing field between short-term rental operators and traditional hotels. They noted that the size of the short-term rental industry has grown to such an extent that it is having a discernible, negative affect on the hotel industry in Edmonton. Speakers on behalf of the hotel industry described short-term rental owners as receiving an "unfair subsidy" as they are not required to pay commercial taxes.
Overall, the Committee recognized that the City of Edmonton will need to be involved to some degree in regulating the short-term rental industry, until or unless the industry is capable of regulating itself appropriately. It emphasized that laws are not just about predictability for good players, but must be able to sort out and deal with the bad players. Businesses of this nature can be permitted, but the quality of life laws need to prevail.
Hopefully, Edmonton can learn from cities like Vancouver and Ottawa in crafting a "good neighbour" policy for short-term rentals that balances regulation with the rights of rental owners. The Administration was directed to continue gathering data on the subject and report back in June 2020.
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