Vancouver not interested in tool to detect fake Airbnb licenses, says housing advocate

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VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A housing advocate says the City of Vancouver is refusing his proposed solution to identifying Airbnb hosts that use fake business licences.

Rohana Rezel says a team of people is discovering about three fake licenses every day on the popular accommodation site.

He says it’s relatively simple to detect the fakes. They don’t contain the numbers ordinarily included in city business licences, such as 18 to indicate the year. Sometimes they are blatantly fake, like 12345.

Plus, they’ve detected the same business license on different listings, which is in contravention of the city’s new Airbnb rules.

As an IT specialist, Rezel got to work to create software to detect the fake license numbers, but had a hard time getting the attention of city hall. He says he finally had a discussion with a manager at city hall this week. She let him know they weren’t interested in the software.

Rezel says the problem lies in the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and Airbnb, a copy of which Rezel was able to acquire through a recent Freedom of Information request. The agreement stipulates the city, not Airbnb, is responsible for getting hosts to comply with the new bylaw, including acquiring business licenses.

Getting Rezel’s software to work to weed out the fakes would require Airbnb’s cooperation.

“When a person tries to use a fake license or use a duplicate license, the system would flag it. With Airbnb playing along, it gets flagged, and it wouldn’t accept the listing.”

Rezel says without Airbnb’s participation, the agreement isn’t working.

“So, the city says they are satisfied with the Memoranum of Understanding with Airbnb. But this agreement is really weak. Just as I had suspected, people are cheating the system. So this is the problem. Airbnb is under no obligation to comply with anything. The city would need to renegotiate the MOU.”

Airbnb hosts in Vancouver need to take out licenses before the end of August, or risk losing their listing.

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