MONTREAL - For a mere $40 a night, visitors to Montreal can book a room in a trendy, art-filled loft not far from the city's Old Port. The apartment's tenant, Alan Ganev, will sleep on the couch.
For double that price, you can have Ganev's place all to yourself, and he'll spend the night at his girlfriend's.
These are just two of the options on offer at Airbnb, a fast-growing website that advertises short-term accommodation in homes and apartments around the world. There are thousands of places up for grabs in Montreal alone.
Ganev has hosted more than 60 people in the past year and a half. He said the benefits go far beyond helping to pay the bills.
"I've been able to meet so many wonderful people from all parts of the world," he said. "I truly have an honest connection with them, and I learn a lot from them."
However the Quebec government is trying to crack down on such rentals.
A spokeswoman for Tourisme Quebec says the province is investigating 2,000 people for renting out their homes for short-term stays without a permit.
Government agents are even making fake reservation requests to bust repeat offenders, Suzanne Asselin told the Montreal radio station 98.5 FM in an interview.
Residents aren't allowed to advertise online or rent out their apartment on a regular basis, for fewer than 31 days, without registering and paying a $250 fee.
"The law and regulations on tourist establishments is clear on the subject," Asselin told the radio station. The goal, she said, is to ensure the safety of visitors to the province.
Tourisme Quebec could not be reached for comment on the weekend.
Quebec isn't the only jurisdiction that has taken steps against home rentals.
A New York judge ruled last week that a man who rented out his apartment on Airbnb broke the law because he rented it for fewer than 30 days and wasn't home while the tourist occupied it. He was ordered to pay a $2,400 penalty.
Those who don't comply with the rules in Quebec also face fines.
When asked about the situation in Quebec, a spokesman for Airbnb referred The Canadian Press to a statement posted to the company's website.
"When deciding whether to become an Airbnb host, it's important for you to understand how the laws work in your city," the statement reads in part.
"We are working with governments around the world to clarify these rules so that everyone has a clear understanding of what the laws are."
Nick Papas, the spokesman, didn't say whether Airbnb is facing any difficulties in other provinces.
Business groups like Montreal's Bed and Breakfast Association have been pushing for the government to crackdown on home rentals for years.
Patryck Thenevard, who heads the association and runs Atmosphere, a bed and breakfast not far from Montreal's downtown, said the hospitality industry is suffering.
He isn't convinced the government's tough talk will lead to any changes.
"In reality, there is nothing that's happening (in terms of a crackdown)," Thenevard said in an interview.
In Montreal, there are 102 registered bed and breakfasts and homes certified for short-term rentals, compared with 3,000 unregistered ones, Thenevard said. He said the "black market" for rentals continues to grow while the number of official bed and breakfasts is on the decline.
Taxes, insurance and the registration fees required by bed and breakfasts make it difficult to compete against those renting out a room in their apartment, he said.
The increased popularity of home rental sites like Airbnb is part of a growing trend of peer-to-peer sharing schemes, the most popular of which include car-rental and bike services.
Jurisdictions across North America are struggling to figure out how to deal with such services, said Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business and an expert on digital economics.
Sundararajan said the market tends to regulates itself when it comes to such things like apartment rentals, thanks to online reviews and measures put in place by sites like Airbnb.
He said local governments also have a role to ensure products are safe and customers aren't getting bilked.
"I think there is a balance between what the government should be doing and what the marketplace should be doing on its own," Sundararajan said.
In the end, though, he said the explosion of innovation and entrepreneurship coming from these new arrangements ends up benefiting consumers.
"If you look at the history at the technological progress, any time there is a technology that makes things more efficient, eventually it has a positive impact on the economy."
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The Underground City
Montreal’s city-under-the-city, called “La Ville Souterraine” or RESO, consists of a vast network of shops, restaurants, movie theatres, museums and hotels, accessible through 10 of the city’s Metro stations. It’s so big, in fact, that it’s considered one of the largest underground cities in the world. The greatest part about the Souterraine is that it is climate-controlled year-round, so it’s a fine place to visit during the frigid months of winter and a comfortable escape on a hot, humid summer day. Get yourself a map and spend a few hours exploring down below.
Fans of Italian cuisine take note – Montreal’s Italian population is 250,000-strong and the second-largest in Canada (after Toronto). To get to Little Italy, head to St. Laurent between Jean-Talon and St. Zotique streets. One of your first stops should be the <a href="http://www.marchespublics-mtl.com/English/Jean-Talon/" target="_hplink">Jean-Talon Market</a> for everything from artisanal cheeses to premium chocolates and charcuterie meats. During soccer season, stop by an authentic Italian café to sip cappuccinos and argue about who will win the World Cup. Stroll by the Church of the Madonna della Difesa in summer to watch the traditional bocce matches. And if you visit in June, you may be lucky enough to watch Ferraris parading through the streets during <a href="http://www.grandprixmontreal.com/" target="_hplink">Grand Prix </a>week.
Another small, but notable cultural corner of the city is Chinatown, at the intersections of <a href="http://boulevardsaintlaurent.com/?show_nolinks=1&lang=en" target="_hplink">Saint Laurent Boulevard </a>and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_la_Gaucheti%C3%A8re_Street" target="_hplink">La Gauchetière Street</a>. As is traditional in any Chinatown, it features four ornate, red and gold entrances. Along with excellent Chinese restaurants (try the Peking Duck at <a href="http://www.restaurantmonnan.com/" target="_hplink">Moon Nan Village</a>), there are a good number of Vietnamese eateries to tempt you as well. While its superb cuisine is the main attraction, Chinatown also features outdoor shopping on Saint-Laurent between Viger and Rene-Levesque, with shopkeepers displaying exotic fruits and vegetables and imported treats. One of the most buzzed-about favourites is Dragon’s Beard Candy. Also known as Chinese cotton candy, it’s made by stretching a boiled sugar mixture into long strands that are then wrapped around roasted nuts – definitely try some.
Montreal is one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities—attracting thousands each year to its week-long festival, Divers/cité, each year. You’ll find Le Village, as it’s known, on Saint Catherine Street East, from Amherst Street to Papineau. It’s a particularly hip and youthful neighbourhood, as many Université du Québec à Montréal students live in its affordable apartment buildings there. It’s also rich with nightclubs and quirky shops. Browse for unique gifts at <a href="http://shop.mortimersnodgrass.com/" target="_hplink">Mortimer Snodgrass</a>, which has everything from saucy aprons to Maple Syrup candles.
Though it may not be as well-known as some of Montreal’s other districts, Little Burgundy was the birthplace of Montreal’s sizzling jazz scene. Located in the city’s southwest, the area was settled by working-class black people in the late 1800s, and its music scene produced well-known jazz musicians like legendary pianists and composers Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones. Be sure to visit the art deco <a href="http://www.marche-atwater.com/" target="_hplink">Atwater Farmer’s Market</a> and if you love browsing antique stores, try <a href="http://www.milordantiques.com/" target="_hplink">Milord Antiques</a> or <a href="http://oldtimesantiques.com/" target="_hplink">Old Times Antiques</a>. In recent years, the area has been revitalized by a vibrant restaurant scene. Spending time wandering the streets and shops should build up an appetite for a nice juicy steak at <a href="http://www.joebeef.ca/goods.php" target="_hplink">Joe Beef</a>.