03/31/2016 13:08 EDT | Updated 04/01/2017 01:12 EDT

Vancouver needs new bylaws for Airbnb crackdown, says councillor

The City of Vancouver needs new bylaws to crack down on Airbnb listings and protect its stock of long-term rentals, says one city councillor.

Coun. Geoff Meggs says while most Airbnb listings in the city are actually illegal, existing bylaws are not effective enough to enforce a crackdown and protect the city's stock of long-term rentals.

"You are not allowed to rent your home for less than 30 days unless you have a bed and breakfast business licence."

"The problem is that we have a complete mismatch between the regulatory regime and the new technology, " said Meggs.

The existing bylaw, he explains, is problematic because it is complaint-driven and requires bylaw officers to gather much more evidence than a simple online listing.

As a result, many who list on online vacation rental websites are just ignoring the rules, he says.

Ultimately Meggs wants to see a new law drafted to regulate short term rentals, including those from other popular websites like VRBO, Tripping and Roomorama. Specifically, he'd like to mandate licenses for these types of rentals.

"If I go into restaurants I have an expectation that they are following the rules...and they have to show a licence to show that that is the case. And when people go into business to rent, they have to understand that there are going to be certain obligations."

It's not about the money

The city is already studying the issue, but Meggs has tabled a motion that will go to council on April 5 directing staff to step up their efforts, including getting data on listings directly from Airbnb, and looking at what other cities have done to tackle the problem.

"We'd like to see Airbnb give whatever data they have" said Meggs. "We need to know how quickly they are turning over, what sort of length of time they are, whether it is all single homes... we need to know the shape of the market."

Meggs says his intention is not to create a new revenue stream for the city.

"This is not about revenue. It's about protecting rental stock. That is my concern."

He points to recent studies that show there are more than 4,000 listing on the popular online accommodation site.

"Vancouver is one of the largest markets for Airbnb in North America," says Meggs. "My main concern is that thousands of listings out there represent a significant chunk of our rental stock which is no longer available to tenants, and therefore driving vacancy rates down to the vanishing point."

Meggs says while he understands many people who list their rooms or homes online need the income, they should expect to have to follow the laws if they are running a business.

Income pressures and big mortgages

"A lot of people who are doing Airbnb rentals do have very serious income pressures," Meggs said. "They need the extra money because they have a big mortgage or are paying very high rent themselves. I understand that, but the consequences of that are too much. We have got to find that balance."

"I am not in favour of using long-term housing stock for tourism. We have an entire sector that does that and if there is a need to expand that we should look at that."

And he fully expects any new regulations would reduce the number of Airbnb listings.

"I think most of the listings now are illegal. I don't think there is any doubt about that.... So I suspect there would be a reduction in the number of listings."

"The old rules have the effect of protecting rental stock for rentals ... and I'd like to see that kind of outcome again."