Sunday, September 20, 2020
UK

London city hall suggests licensing Airbnb-type rentals

Airbnb

The proposed rules suggest hosts renting their apartments or houses should be licensed through city hall

London city hall is looking at licensing local Airbnb-type rentals. The proposed rules, made public in a staff report on Wednesday, suggest hosts renting their apartments or houses should be licensed through city hall – the same for the rental platforms themselves – and appoint a local contact person for emergencies.

There are some competing rights here and I think a nuanced approach is appropriate. The municipality might not get it right the first time, Laura Glithero, a lawyer at Cohen Highley who represents some condominium corporations, said of the desire to regulate.

Some oversight is likely reasonable, she said, adding many condo buildings are struggling with how to manage “short-term accommodation rentals,” as they’re called by city hall, where tenants are listing units on Airbnb, Vrbo (formerly Vacation Rental by Owner) or Homeaway.

There’s concern that short-term rentals are taking affordable one-bedroom units out of circulation in a city with a low vacancy rate and spiralling rents.

The proposed regulations come as one popular home-rental website announced its own safety changes.

In Canada, renting out entire houses won’t be possible for those under 25, unless they already have positive reviews on Airbnb. And the company is offering its hosts a discount on noise-monitoring devices.

The company also sent out a news release last week saying it has set up a Canadian hotline for anyone to raise to the alarm about problems at Airbnb rentals.

In the news release, Airbnb said its new safety measures “build upon Airbnb’s trust and safety efforts, including a global ban on party houses and enhanced tools to stop unauthorized parties.”

Listings in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton and other Canadian cities have already been suspended since the party house ban was launched in November, Airbnb said in the statement.

London hasn’t seen the same kind of problems as larger cities, but complaints around short-term rentals have nonetheless hit city hall.

Staff are aware that difficulties have arisen and may arise, said Nicole Musicco, a policy specialist at city hall, adding some form of regulation is “extremely important” for public safety and residential stability.

We have confidence that this local contact requirement would help to alleviate any concerns arising from long-distance landlords and then help to encourage responsible behaviour also from the host, which will hopefully limit the disturbance within the neighbourhood, Musicco said.

She said the platforms that offer Londoners an easy way to list and rent their homes are aware of the proposed regulations. In terms of pushback, that’s always an option, but insofar, there’s been co-operation from them, she said.

Similar pending regulations in Toronto were appealed once by landlords, some of whom promised to wage another war against them.

If hosts are required to register with city hall, they could be hit with the four per cent tax that’s been added to hotel and motel bills since 2018. City staff are working on a report on how to start collecting that tax from short-term rentals.

Candace Keeling bought her first house in London while at Western University and has used Airbnb for the last five years, she said, but notes her neighbours had her number to report problems before she starting hosting.

The last thing hosts want is to have problem properties, because they don’t want their income, their livelihood to be impacted by people who are irresponsible, Keeling said.

She’s also a realtor who helps people buy homes with a plan to rent out rooms or separate suites using short-term rental websites. Licensing hosts would see fees trickle down to the renters, Keeling added.

City statistics show Airbnb hosts in London earned $7.7 million from their rentals last year. That doesn’t factor in any other platforms.

The London Airbnb rentals are split almost evenly between entire homes and a room within a home. In 2019, 57,000 people stayed in them.

Keeling said the ratio of problems to stays is very low in London, and added current bylaws are enough to tackle any problems.

It’s very difficult to come back from overregulation. If we overregulate this, we could ruin a good thing, she said.

Glithero says city hall will need to listen to Londoners as it navigates the controversial file.

Community consultation is a crucial component, and drafting regulation that reflect specific communities, she said. But that doesn’t mean that you overregulate or that you avoid regulating at all. That doesn’t mean either of those is the right answer.

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