Toronto officially asks Airbnb to take down ghost hotels
Toronto is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis unlike anything city officials have seen before, and many think that Airbnb can help to solve the problem—you know, given how much of a role the service may have played in causing it.
City councillors voted 21-1 on Thursday night in favour of asking Airbnb and similar platforms to "voluntarily abide" by the short-term rental regulations that City Council approved back in 2017.
Those regulations, which should have come into effect over the summer, were postponed until at least August of 2019 due to a weird committee scheduling glitch.
City Council hopes that Airbnb will play nice with Toronto and obey the city's forthcoming laws either way, just a bit earlier than they technically have to.
With an overwhelming 21-1 vote Toronto City Council has formally called on Airbnb to play by the rules. Thousands of houses & condos have been removed from the housing market by investors & are being used as ghost hotels. Toronto has now formally called on Airbnb to de-list them. pic.twitter.com/KknpjvsjYO— Joe Cressy (@joe_cressy) January 31, 2019
The California-based vacation rental brokerage is unlikely to comply, based on what Airbnb Canada's director of public policy told the CBC earlier this week.
"Airbnb has been a huge benefit for thousands and thousands of families as they try to make ends meet in a very expensive city," said Alex Dagg, who explained that the company "does not have the authority to comply with rules" that have yet to Ontario's Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
Councillor Joe Cressy disagrees with the "huge benefit" part of that statement—or, to be more precise, does not think the benefit to those renting out their homes outweighs the damage "ghost hotels" are doing to Toronto's already sparse rental housing market.
"As we know all too well, our city continues to struggle with a growing housing crisis - not only in affordability, but in the availability of safe rental housing," reads a report from Cressy that went before council yesterday.
"With over 181,000 people on the waiting list for subsidized housing, and a rental vacancy rate of only one percent, the crisis is a critical point."
Cressy's motion, seconded by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, points to a recent report from Fairbnb (a coalition of hotel industry organizations) that shows 76 per cent of all Airbnb listings in the city are in properties bought exclusively to be used as short term rentals.
That equates to about 6,500 unregulated "ghost hotels" in Toronto that could be freed up for much-needed, long-term rental housing units.
"These homes and units, often purchased in bulk by corporations and taken permanently off the rental market and used as permanent short-term rentals, would not be permitted under the rules passed by the City in 2017," continues Cressy's motion.
"The crisis is complex, as are the solutions - we need new affordable housing, deeper affordability and much more. We also need AirBnB to become part of the housing affordability solution."
Nice vote. There should be a mechanism by which we report our condo neighbours for running AirBnB that has teeth.— Jason ☢️🔊 (@jasonnolan) February 1, 2019
Should Airbnb agree to what City Council is asking, it would have to immediately remove roughly 8,200 non-compliant listings in Toronto from its platform.
It may sound extreme, but so does a vacancy rate of just 1.1 per cent—and this wouldn't be the first mass de-listing for Airbnb, either.
Last January, the company was ordered to remove about 5,000 different San Francisco properties from its website thanks to a new law that prohibited unregistered homes from being listed in the city.
Whether that happens now or in August for Toronto remains to be seen, but either way, it's very likely going to happen.
"Thousands of houses and condos have been removed from the housing market by investors and are being used as ghost hotels," said Cressy following yesterday's vote. "Toronto has now formally called on Airbnb to de-list them."
Your move, Airbnb.
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