The chances are good anyone operating an Airbnb in Regina is doing so illegally — they just might not know they are violating the bylaw.
Airbnb could be considered the flagship home-sharing company, in which people rent out their houses or rooms within their homes to guests for stays typically lasting just a few days.
Currently, Airbnb’s website lists more than 200 homes in Regina.
According to a statement by administration, “there aren’t any licensed Airbnbs operating in the city.”
Fred Searle, manager of current planning in the city’s development services department, said Regina does have some accommodation for short-term stays within their current zoning bylaw for what are called residential home-stays and bed and breakfasts. A short term accommodation is defined as 30 days or less.
Not surprisingly, the brunt of home-sharing services, such as Airbnb, are found in residential areas. Searle said if a hosts’ home is deemed to be a short-term accommodation and it is indeed within a residential area, then the host would be required to obtain a discretionary use for approval through both committee and city council levels.
For those who haven’t received that approval, Searle agreed they would be operating against the law.
“If it would be deemed short-term accommodation, certainly that would be the case,” he said.
Over the past two years, there have been no applications in this regard considered by city council. Currently, there is one application being processed but it has yet to be scheduled for consideration by the city’s planning commission and city council.
Searle said the city doesn’t issue commercial business licenses but does issue them for residential businesses. In terms of taxation, the city said Airbnbs are treated in a similar fashion to bed and breakfasts, rental homes and home-based businesses.
But enforcing the rules isn’t easy.
“Given the nature of some of these locations, they operate with perhaps different frequencies or duration which can pose some challenge in terms of monitoring and tracking,” he said.
“If complaints are received, we’ll respond to those… we do go out and do investigate to determine what evidence there is,” Searle continued.
Certainly what we try to achieve through that process is voluntary compliance or an application submission or a ceasing of the activity.”
Since the beginning of 2016, there have been 10 specific complaints received. Searle admitted some hosts may simply be ignorant of the bylaw.
Airbnb responded by saying that the company has previously reached out to the city to share information as administration moves toward regulating home sharing.
“Regina is the home of many responsible Airbnb hosts,” said the company’s director of public policy Alex Dagg.
“Airbnb welcomes debate about home sharing in Regina — in fact, we believe that municipalities should regulate our industry. We have worked constructively with cities across Canada toward fair and sensible home sharing regulations,” the written statement added.
The city is currently in the midst of a comprehensive review of its zoning bylaw, which Searle said should be done by 2019. He said Regina is also looking towards other cities for guidance on how they have approached their own bylaws around home sharing.