airbnb toronto

There could be more than 17,000 illegal Airbnbs in Toronto right now

The City of Toronto introduced new regulations at the end of last year that required all Airbnb hosts to only rent out their primary residence and register their property as a short-term vacation rental, but thousands are likely still violating the rules.

After city councillor Paula Fletcher put forward a motion asking for an update on the city's short-term rental regulations at last week's Planning & Housing Committee meeting, city columnist Matt Elliott decided to crunch the numbers to see just how many Airbnb hosts have yet to comply. 

"There have been reports that many listings for Toronto on Airbnb still lack the license number that is now required to be listed," wrote Elliott in his newsletter City Hall Watcher. "Worse, some are saying landlords are claiming to be exempt from the regulations — which is not possible — or posting fake license numbers."

Using the registration data for short-term rentals on Toronto's open data portal combined with a giant spreadsheet of all the Airbnb listings in the city from InsideAirbnb, Elliott calculated just how many listings either didn't have a license number at all or had one that didn't match anything in the city's system as of Jan. 2. 

He then discovered that as of that day, there were 18,265 Airbnb listings in Toronto, and only 665, or 3.64 per cent, had a valid license number. 

Another 17,425, or 95.40 per cent, had no license number listed, while 97, or 0.53 per cent, had listed an invalid license number. 

And 78, or 0.43 per cent, (inaccurately) claimed to be exempt from the regulations altogether.

But the official deadline to register an Airbnb listing was Dec. 31, and it wouldn't be surprising for at least some hosts to have merely missed the deadline and registered after the fact.

"The InsideAirbnb data only takes us through January 2, which is after the registration deadline but some tardiness is to be expected," wrote Elliott. "Some of the people who hadn't yet posted a license number may have since got around to it."

Still, some hosts clearly intended to skirt the rules by coming up with false registration numbers that don't even resemble the city's actual format. 

For example, the registration numbers the city has been issuing thus far always start with STR-2 and resemble a format such as STR-2012-FWDRVD and STR-2101-FPVKVC, according to Elliott, but one listing for a Harbourfront condo lists the registration number as STR-1231-CLEVER. 

Another listing for a "Zen studio with CN Tower views" lists the registration number as STR-1234-ABCDEF, Elliott said. 

"The most prolific landlord listing properties with registration numbers that did not match city records has a whopping 39 condos up for rent," he added. 

"It's been said before, but it's worth repeating: this is not a situation where someone is making a few extra bucks by renting their place for a few weekends a year. These 'superhosts' are effectively hotel managers, except instead of being responsible for a building they have distributed all their rooms across the city."

After asking the city about this issue, Elliott said city spokesperson Lyne Kyle told him they're aware of some listings that may be featuring false or incorrect licensing numbers and are working to investigate the irregularities.

Kyle added that it can take time for landlords applications to be reviewed — there were 323 applications in process as of Monday. 

Fletcher's motion, meanwhile, asks Municipal Licensing and Standards to come up with a report that answers questions such as whether short-term rental companies will de-list all those properties that have no city-issued permit number attached, and whether they'll ensure that only valid city registration numbers are used.

The motion also asks how short-term rental companies will distinguish between a valid and made-up registration number, and if short-term rental companies will de-list all properties that currently say "exempt" in their registration field. 

"With concerns about mass residential evictions resulting from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic and changes to provincial regulations, it would be helpful at this time to get an interim update on the short term rental regulations and registration implementation process," reads Fletcher's motion.

The interim update on the city's short-term rental regulations and registration process is set to be considered by city council on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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