VANCOUVER—After enacting rules that prevent commercial operators from listing apartments on Airbnb and other short-term rental sites, Vancouver city councillors are exploring ideas that could partially reopen the door.
Councillor Pete Fry said allowing companies to use several floors of a building as a hotel could encourage the construction of new rental buildings without the typical waiving of development fees, used by the city to fund amenities such as parks. His idea would also boost the flagging number of hotel rooms in the city, he said.
Council has already heard speakers for Fry’s motion and will debate and vote on the idea Tuesday.
Councillor Melissa De Genova, meanwhile, has submitted a motion that proposes to relax some of the regulations, including a current rule that homeowners and renters are only allowed to list their primary residence. Under De Genova’s proposal, homeowners and renters could list any suite they own or lease.
De Genova’s motion proposes a system in which the number of licences would be capped by neighbourhood as a way of controlling the unbridled growth of short-term rentals. City planners and experts say the shift to short term has removed many suites that could be rented long term from the rental market.
David Wachsmuth, a professor at McGill University’s School of Urban Policy, recently calculated that Vancouver’s regulations led to around 300 apartments being returned to the long-term rental market. He said Vancouver’s regulations have been among the most effective in North America.
Octavian Cadabeschi, a research analyst with the hotel workers’ union Unite Here, said both motions appear to undermine the city’s current short-term rental regulations.
By undoing the primary residence restriction, De Genova’s motion would remove “the thing we thought was most successful about the city’s existing short-term rental regulations,” Cadabeschi said.
“They made it really clear that while they allow homesharing and they allow people to host someone in their home or while they’re away on vacation, they don’t allow commercial short-term rentals. They don’t allow short-term rentals in units that no one actually lives in and have been taken off the market.”
Regarding Fry’s motion, Cadabeschi said the number of hotel rooms has been declining in Vancouver for several years, but it’s not because hotels are struggling. Citing examples like the Empire Landmark on Robson St. and the Coast Plaza in Vancouver’s West End, Cadabeschi said there’s been a trend of converting hotels to more lucrative uses, like condos or “luxury” rentals.
Fry said the fact is that Vancouver needs more hotel rooms and cited a company called Sonder is an example of a new, popular model. Sonder offers an Airbnb-like experience — full apartment suites in residential neighbourhoods — but with the certainty of hotel services, like professional cleaning and comfortable furniture.
The model Fry envisions is a developer who can get financing for two extra floors if they operate them as hotel suites for 10 years under an agreement with the city. After 10 years, the floors would revert to long-term rental.
“This is an emergent trend in hotels that kind of recognizes that a lot of modern travellers are looking for a place where they can do laundry or have a kitchenette,” Fry said. “They’re not necessarily looking for a hotel bar and a lobby lounge and a bellhop.”
It’s a model the city has already allowed one company to try. After fining the developer Onni for operating short-term rentals in a new rental building, city staff gave the company a licence to operate 20 suites in the building as hotel rooms, according to News 1130.
Cadabeschi said the members of Unite Here are concerned about the loss of steady work, because cleaning and restocking work for short-term rental units tends to be much more precarious.
“Rather than directing staff to explore this idea, instead consider motions that will actually deal with some of these issues, like expanding short-term rental regulations, protecting traditional hotels and not opening up short-term rentals in residential buildings,” Cadabeschi said.