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VICTORIA — The New Democrats had some strong advice this week for property owners who’ve gone big on renting out several units on a short-term basis through Airbnb and other vacation platforms.
“You should probably be thinking about a new profit scheme in the very near future,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon.
Premier David Eby said those owners face a choice: “Our hope is that short-term rental operators either convert to long-term operators or put their homes up for sale so that British Columbians have a shot at buying them.
Both spoke at a news conference Monday following the introduction of legislation severely restricting short-term rentals in B.C.
Henceforth, in major urban centres, short term rentals of the Airbnb type will be limited to a renter’s principal residences and one adjacent unit, like a basement suite or laneway dwelling.
Otherwise forget it. Your business model is dead. Go find another.
For justification, Eby began by citing his own online research on Reddit, a social news aggregator.
“For me, one of the flags that really drove home the issue was in the early stages of the pandemic,” the premier told reporters. “I saw on Reddit — I saw people posting listings of apartments with photographs that very obviously were staged for short term rentals, but that they were up now for long term rentals because travellers weren’t coming to B.C. in the same kinds of numbers.
“And so people were taking short term rentals off the market and opening them as long term rentals, and people were saying look, this is evidence of what we’ve been talking about; we’re losing” long-term rentals.
I suppose we should be grateful that the premier didn’t insist on doing his own online research on the efficacy of vaccines.
Eby also leaned heavily on recent research by the school of urban planning at McGill University.
“It was certainly instructive for us to see this study out McGill, independent of Airbnb, concluding that there were 16,000 units that fall in this category of what should be long-term rentals in the short-term rental market.”
The McGill study was indeed independent of Airbnb.
However the premier neglected to mention that the McGill study was commissioned by the B.C. Hotel Association, scarcely a disinterested observer on the impact of Airbnb on the market for hotel rooms.
New Democrats are quick to cite the names of the corporations and interest groups that commission research with findings they don’t much like.
But where the research confirmed the premier’s preconceptions, he neglected to mention who commissioned it.
Eby did have some advice for the hotel association, keyed to his expectation that many of those presumed 16,000 units would be removed from the short-term market and no longer available for tourist rentals.
“We do expect that this will lead hotel chains and others to look at investing in additional hotel space in B.C., purpose-built accommodation for tourists,” the premier told reporters.
“One of the accommodations that that sector has had about making decisions to invest is the rapid growth in STR (short-term rentals) undercutting markets for additional hotel spaces. This will provide clarity for them about the direction our province is going.”
But perhaps the hotel industry will wait to see how all this plays out before undertaking the enormous investment in planning, permitting, financing and actually building a major downtown hotel.
Other factors — random violence and harassment, organized shoplifting, homeless encampments — may be leading tourists to seek safer accommodation outside downtowns. Those concerns won’t necessarily be solved by restricting short-term rentals.
Nor is it clear how the crackdown will work.
The enabling legislation, Bill 35, runs 28 pages. But a quarter of those are a laundry list of the cabinet’s power to make regulations, all to be defined later.
Eby offered a fanciful notion of implementation: “One person at a desk can check off the business licences and make sure that everything is as it should be.”
More likely it will entail yet another NDP-led expansion of the bureaucracy.
The legislation provides for the appointment of a permitting registrar and an enforcement director, each with the power to hire the necessary staff to carry out their duties.
Eby didn’t lack for enthusiasm.
“Today’s announcement will make a difference for every single family that accesses a unit that used to be in a short-term rental and comes into long-term rental,” he declared.
But he ran for cover when a reporter sought some measure by which to judge success a year from now.
“There are a wide array of estimates of the number of units that would fall into this category,” said Eby.“The study out of McGill (said) 16,000 units in B.C. There was a study out of Airbnb that says it’s zero. … So somewhere in between there is the number of units.”
Asked how many units will be added to the long-term rental market as a result of this legislation, the premier tosses off a clueless guess of between zero and 16,000 units.
Not the sort of prediction one could take to a bank. Or even a halfway credible social media platform.
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