Much like the reception that greeted ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft when they first entered Toronto’s marketplace, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the short-term housing rental economy ever since apps like Airbnb gained popularity in the city.
Supporters of Airbnb and other forms of short-term housing rentals argue that they help stimulate the city’s business and tourism economies. On the other hand, detractors have argued that short-term rentals have a number of negative impacts, including that they take available units off of the long-term rental market in a city that is already experiencing an affordable housing shortage. As far back as 2017, the City of Toronto has attempted to impose regulations on Airbnb and other short-term housing rentals. In July of that year, the City’s Municipal Licensing and Standards division proposed several new regulations.
These regulations included that short-term rentals only be hosted in a person’s primary residence. This means that a person cannot own one property where they live and then own another income property that they exclusively rent out for short-term rentals, defined as a rental of less than 28 days. People who choose to rent out their home for short-term rentals must register with the City and pay an annual fee of $50, and residents are forbidden from renting out their home on a short-term basis for more than 180 nights per year.These regulations were approved by City Council in early 2018. A group of landlords appealed the regulations, but the Ontario Land Planning Appeal Tribunal recently rejected the appeal and ruled that the regulations were reasonable.
But another more sinister issue has come to dominate the public debate over the effect of short-term rentals: the potential for public disturbance, property damage, and violence at parties thrown in such units. In the past year alone, there have been at least five incidents of gun violence at short-term rental units in the Greater Toronto Area. The most recent and most deadly resulted in the deaths of three young men in Toronto on January 31, 2020. There have been similar episodes in Ottawa recently, and last year, in California, a Halloween party hosted in an Airbnb resulted in five fatalities.
As a direct response to the seeming outbreak of violence occurring at short-term rentals in the GTA over the past year, Airbnb has announced a series of new policies and programs intended to curb such tragedies. The most drastic change to Airbnb’s policy in Canada is that guests under the age of 25 will no longer be allowed to rent entire homes through Airbnb. Guests under the age of 25 will still be permitted to book individual rooms in the homes of hosts, but they will not be able to book the entire premises to themselves. Airbnb believes this policy will reduce the chances of unauthorized parties hosted in short-term rental units. Somewhat confusingly, Airbnb has announced that individuals who are under the age of 25 will still be allowed to book entire homes if they “meet a certain criteria.” Hopefully the specific criteria that Airbnb is looking for will be explained more clearly in the near future and will not lead to potential guests being arbitrarily discriminated against.
Airbnb has also announced a partnership with a group called Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns. This partnership will apparently provide $300,000 to raise awareness on how to keep Canadians safe from guns. The final part of Airbnb’s new program is a 24/7 neighbourhood support hotline that will allow Canadians to forward concerns they have about short-term rental units directly to Airbnb. While there is certainly much debate to be had over the root causes of tragedies like the triple homicide that occurred in Toronto on January 31st, it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to the steps Airbnb is taking to hopefully increase the safety of those affected by short-term rental units, whether they be guests, hosts, neighbours, or members of the larger community.