11/18/2014 08:12 EST | Updated 01/18/2015 05:59 EST

Airbnb causing condo conflict in Vancouver

Airbnb rentals are increasingly popular with travellers looking for cheap accommodations. The short term rentals are also a hit with homeowners hoping to make some extra cash. But what do the neighbours think—especially if you're in an apartment building?

Ulrike Rodrigues accidentally discovered that three suites in her East Vancouver condo building were available for short term rental when she was checking the Airbnb website for a visiting friend looking for lodging.

"I was mortified," said Rodrigues, who owns her suite.

She said she's concerned about building security and losing the community feel of the building.

"This is residential building, and this is a residential neighbourhood. The building is intended for renters and owners, and not hotel guests," she said.

Rodrigues has used Airbnb in the past herself—she's stayed with a family in Spain—but says this is different because the owner doesn't live in the building.

"I would hate to see more and more strangers coming through the building who have no accountability to the other neighbours," she said.

The Airbnb-listed units belong to realtor Zul Jiwa, who owns nine units in the building and says his family has rented out suites for 25 years.

About two months ago, he decided to put three vacant suites on the market. Jiwa says he choose to list them on Airbnb while he waits for the units to sell.

Currently, one is listed at about $250,000, but Jiwa says sales have been slow, because the building is 38 years old.

The other six units are currently rented, and Jiwa says his long term goal is to sell all nine units, as he hopes to eventually retire.

Plenty to choose from

Jiwa is far from alone in from listing his suites on Airbnb. Hundreds of units are available throughout Vancouver, many of them located within strata-titled buildings.

Lawyer Paul Mendes, who specializes in strata law, said property owners are free to rent their units on Airbnb "if the strata has no bylaws prohibiting that kind of use, subject of course to local zoning."

But neighbours aren't always thrilled with the prospect, he said.

"Many neighbouring unit owners are being negatively affected by noise as people check in and check out," said Mendes.

"There have also been security issues. Many of the buildings downtown use [key] fob systems for access, so they're very concerned about who has fobs and is able to access common property areas in the building," he said.

Mendes says in the past 6 month,s he's drafted Airbnb restrictions for over two dozen strata buildings. He's also been retained by management companies who want to use some of the units they manage for Airbnb.

City strategy?

However, allowing Airbnb rentals is not just up to the strata bylaws. Mendes said the city also has a role to play, because this type of use is regulated by zoning.

"Municipalities definitely have an interest, particularly in a tourist destination like Vancouver," he said.

According to City of Vancouver Zoning and Development Bylaw 10.21.6, rentals for a period of less than one month are not permitted unless the unit is part of a hotel or bed and breakfast. In a written statement emailed to CBC, the City of Vancouver said it uses "a number of inspection and bylaw tools to monitor that renters’ rights are being adhered to with respect to short term rentals, such as Airbnb."

The City asks people with complaints to call 3-1-1. Staff could potentially instruct bylaw violators to either cease operations, or get the proper permits in place. However, Mendes and Rodrigues wonder how many resources are available for enforcement, given that it's a relatively new issue.

The City said it will continue to monitor issues around short-term rentals, including trends in other cities, as it considers the next steps.

Changing ground rules

Mendes says the issue is not likely to go away, as Airbnb seems to only be growing in popularity. He advises developers to take short-term rentals into consideration with drafting new strata regulations.

Strata councils in older buildings may also want to take another look at their bylaws, many of which will have been written before the advent of Airbnb.

Mendes also advises potential buyers to look closely at the bylaws regarding unit rentals, to avoid any surprises in the future—whether they're considering renting out a unit on Airbnb, or don't want to find themselves living next to temporary guests.

As for UlrikeRodrigues, she has brought her concerns to her strata council, which has in turn contacted Mr. Jiwa.

"I see this as an example of larger issue," said Rodrigues, who is also worried that some of the city's rental units may be taken off the market through the service.

"It's one thing to run an Airbnb out of your house. It's your home. But a condo building is a shared home... with other owners and residents... and if they don't know about it and you're just going ahead and running [a] business like this—that's just not fair."