The launch of Airbnb in Canada several years ago empowered everyday homeowners to become part-time landlords.
The Silicon Valley-made platform aims to convert anything from a single room to an entire mansion complex into a rentable, income-generating asset.
Often, novel technology platforms circumvent traditional rules in place, spurring government to update their book of laws.
In BC, Airbnb has already faced several restrictions, from provincial orders down to hyper-local strata bylaws.
To its credit, government has so far been looking to prevent exploitation of the platform at the expense of proper and safe residential neighbourhoods while still allowing Canadians to earn honest incomes from their assets.
However, set to a backdrop of steep inflation and plummeting housing affordability, BC has decided that Airbnb is now a problem.
New regulations propose to restrict people renting short-term suites through platforms like Airbnb to an individual’s primary residence (and one secondary, on-site suite).
Moreover, the definition of “short-term” will be anything less than 90 days—much higher than the typical standard of less than 30 days.
So much for technology being the solution to our housing crisis.
BC Premier David Eby believes the move will return “literally thousands of homes back to the market,” though he cannot guarantee it.
Some are calling changes to the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act “egregious” and “government overreach,” given the profound implications it will have for landlords and tourists across the province.
For example, the Greater Victoria Short-Term Rental Alliance intends to seek compensation for “the stripping of legal nonconforming rights from owners,” according to BC homeowner David Langlois in a Chek News report, and claims to be one of “several groups that are organizing themselves to be challenging the government.”
Langlois added it’s not just about homeowners. People travelling for medical treatments, as well as film production crews, often use services like Airbnb in areas with limited or nonviable hotel options.
And while owners can still rent out properties long-term, income rates for longer leases tend to be significantly lower—something many landlords can’t afford to grapple with in today’s high-cost Canada.
But the most important factor regarding this sweeping decision by BC is whether or not housing affordability will be noticeably affected.
And on that front, Airbnb is entirely unconvinced.
“The BC government’s proposed legislation won’t alleviate the province’s housing concerns,” reads a statement from Airbnb Canada.
“Instead, it will take money out of the pockets of British Columbians,” the company warns, “make travel more unaffordable for millions of residents who travel within BC, and reduce tourism spending in communities where hosts are often the only providers of local accommodations.”
While many may agree with Airbnb’s stance, the cost for going against Eby’s new rules will cost owners dearly. Not only will the restrictions on Airbnb be tighter, but punishment for rule-breaking will be harsher: Fines for breaking bylaw rules will triple to $3,000—per infraction, per day.
Yet skeptics have every right to doubt the positive impact of this move. We can observe how Eby made a similar overreach in 2022 when he amended the Strata Act to abruptly remove rental restrictions from condo buildings throughout the province.
This bold decision from the government drew immediate criticism and, in hindsight, did not have any directly attributable affect on housing affordability in BC. However, it did impact everyday Canadian homeowners whose hard-earned assets were negatively affected.
The current market math is simple: With housing starts low and immigration record-high, restricting Airbnb is likely to have a negligible impact on the region’s market. Until the root causes of Canada’s cost-of-living crisis are properly acknowledged and addressed, it’s unfair to beat up taxpaying, law-abiding citizens with heavy-handed rules.
Changes to the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act will be phased in over the coming year, according to Eby.