By Tess Kalinowski Real Estate Reporter
Thu., Sept. 24, 2020
timer: 4 min. read
Nearly 12 per cent of Toronto’s 23,524 Airbnb listings continued to operate between April and June, even though short-term rental activity was restricted in Ontario due to COVID-19, according to a new report by Fairbnb.
The coalition of academics, community groups and housing advocates says it is another example of how Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms circumvent rules and fail to follow regulations — in this case even public health advice.
A Fairbnb analysis of Airbnb reviews found that 2,800 hosts took in about 6,000 renters in Toronto during the restricted time frame.
The vast majority — 2,400 — received three reviews or less, suggesting they didn’t do much business during those months.
But another 74 hosts received 10 or more reviews and 23 received 15 or more. Those were likely “professional” rental hosts, who operate guest accommodation rather than share their own homes – something that violates Toronto’s short-term rental regulations.
That suggests that, while most hosts are rule-abiding, a minority — the group that makes the most money from and for short-term rental sites — is inclined to flout regulations, said Thorben Wieditz of Fairbnb.
Toronto prohibits entire homes from being rented on a short-term basis unless they are the principal residence of the property owner. It also limits those rentals to fewer than 180 nights a year.
“People that haven’t followed the rules in the past continued not to follow the rules – even the health and safety regulations that the province has put in place,” he said.
A spokesman for Airbnb, who had not seen the report, said he didn’t have a sense of how many hosts were operating during the provincially restricted period. But the company did communicate the rules to its hosts and encouraged them to speak to guests in advance of bookings, said Nathan Rotman, Airbnb public policy manager for Canada.
Calling Ontario’s restrictions “fairly broad,” he said, “There were a number of reasons someone might need temporary lodging at that time, including being a health-care worker or self-isolating or someone who maybe arrived back in the country.”
Rotman also noted that Airbnb updated its platform so guests could check travel restrictions during the lockdown and it provided accommodation to people travelling for medical treatment through Hope Air and to the Service Employees Union International (SEIU) to house front-line health-care workers.
An analysis of the reviews on listings that were most active during the shutdown suggests they weren’t being used to house front-line workers isolating during the pandemic, Wieditz said. Only nine out of 448 reviews included pandemic-related keywords. One review showed that the rental was in connection to a pandemic-related emergency trip.
“We have seen a series of visitors, coming through in quick succession leaving reviews about the pretty view,” he said. “That doesn’t correspond to front line workers.”
The most rentals occurred during the shutdown in two downtown condo neighbourhoods known as Niagara and Waterfront-The Island. The waterfront has been identified as a COVID-19 hot spot.
Wieditz said that Fairbnb is calling on the province to renew its ban on short-term rentals in those areas in light of the recent surge of COVID cases.
The report titled Addressing Airbnb’s IPO Business is being released on Thursday. In advance of Airbnb’s plans to go public later this year, it urges potential investors to consider that the rental platform’s future revenue will have to come amid an increasingly regulated environment.
Fairbnb found that short-term rentals plunged 79.6 per cent in the second quarter of this year compared to last and the number of units that received at least one review plummeted 43 per cent. Nevertheless, by June, the number of Airbnb listings rose by 1.6 per cent.
The report comes after Airbnb announced Monday that it has suspended 40 Ontario listings that have violated the platform’s ban on party houses. The ban was announced late last year after five people were killed at a shooting at a California rental.
“These are people who have received warnings about responsible hosting,” said Airbnb’s Rotman.
The suspended listings were the subjects of complaint through Airbnb’s neighbourhood phone hotline and web portal and through rental regulators, he said.
“We don’t allow people to post their home as an event venue, so (the suspensions) could even be based on that,” said Rotman.
He did not specify the length of the suspensions but said complaints are dealt with on an escalating basis.
Hosts can rejoin Airbnb if they prove they are committed to establishing clear house rules, quiet hours and communicating with their guests.
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“It they want to shut down party rentals they should take a close look at what’s going on in downtown Toronto condo buildings,” said Wieditz, who is holding a press conference on Thursday with residents who say their buildings are being used for gatherings in short-term rentals.
Rotman said the company is emailing its Airbnb “Experiences” hosts, who combine accommodation with tours and activities in Ontario and Quebec, with updated restrictions on gathering numbers.
This month Toronto began requiring all short-term rental operators to register with the city as part of a licensing and enforcement regime.