‘Loophole’ appears to help some Airbnb hosts evade city rules: CTV investigation

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An unusual tactic by dozens of hosts on Airbnb appears to be another attempt to get around Vancouver’s short-term rental regulations.

Dozens of listings that claim to be from outside Vancouver, but whose pictures and other details clearly show the suites are inside the city, might avoid scrutiny from city investigators, a CTV News investigation has found.

The suites don’t display any Vancouver licences. But the map on Airbnb’s site shows their true location, meaning the listings would show up for customers looking to stay downtown.

An Airbnb listing that claims to be in Burnaby is seen here.

“It’s incredibly disappointing, but it’s not a surprise. If there’s a loophole people will try to find it,” said Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry.

One Airbnb listing claimed to be an “upscale two-bedroom apartment in the sky” in downtown Burnaby but its pictures showed Vancouver’s skyline.

Another claimed to be a “funky downtown city centre suite” in West Vancouver – but it was clearly the Electra Building, on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver.

Eleven listings claimed to be in Burnaby; 14 claimed to be from West Vancouver; seven from West Vancouver; seven from North Vancouver and three from Coquitlam were discovered by Jens von Bergmann of Mountain Math Analytics.

Some hosts claimed to be from Vancouver, Washington.

None of them displayed any city licence information, according to Bergmann.

Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle said if people are going to such lengths to evade scrutiny, it’s up to the city and Airbnb to work harder to protect suites that could be rented to locals in a serious housing crisis.

“The city needs to strengthen our regulations and enforcement,” she said. “All of these forms of short term rentals should be regulated so we don’t lose rental units.”

Late Wednesday, all of the listings appeared to have been removed from Airbnb’s site. The company hadn’t responded to CTV’s questions about the removal by press time.

Without an existing listing it’s difficult for city enforcers to crack down on those particular hosts, a city spokesperson said.

Hosts are supposed to pay the city a one-time $58 fee and a $49 annual licence fee. Vancouver has issued 3,161 short-term rental licences, but Bergmann has shown there are 4,589 listings.

Fry said that while all of the hosts in the city of Vancouver aren’t complying, a lot of work has been done so far on what he said is a unique agreement between Vancouver and Airbnb.

“Airbnb is the only platform right now that is doing any compliance – Hotels.com, Expedia, VRBO, none of them are going as far as this compliance. But clearly there’s a disconnect,” he said.