MONTREAL ― Ontario is among the jurisdictions that have banned short-term rentals to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but there is little stopping Airbnb users from booking rooms in the province.
Airbnb users in Canada, the U.S. and Europe told HuffPost Canada that, in searching for short-term accommodations in Toronto for late April, they were not notified of any restrictions on rentals prior to committing to a booking, either on hosts’ listing pages or through Airbnb itself.
Ontario and Quebec have temporarily banned short-term accommodation rentals as part of efforts to discourage travel during the pandemic. But Ontario’s ban makes an exception for “individuals who are in need of housing during the emergency period.”
Watch: Airbnb adds 24-hour waiting period before hosts can clean, as a buffer between guests. Story continues below.
Quebec’s ban exempts only “certain campsites hosting snowbirds with no other accommodation,” and states that any short-term bookings made after March 27 “directly with tourist accommodation or through a third party, must be canceled.”
Listings for short-term accommodations have recently disappeared in searches for Airbnb rentals in the Montreal area, where they will remain blocked until May 4, an Airbnb spokesperson said.
“Airbnb was the first platform to comply with the province’s regulations,” the spokesperson said in an email to HuffPost Canada.
The spokesperson did not say whether the company has any plans to notify people seeking to book in Ontario of the rental restrictions, either before or after a booking request is made, or whether there is any process in place to determine whether an Ontario booking is legitimately for someone in housing need.
Airbnb pointed to the wording of Ontario’s regulation, which states that “(e)very person who provides short term rentals in rental accommodations shall ensure” that bookings comply with the new rules, in effect as of April 4.
“Airbnb is glad the Province of Ontario recognizes the many situations where short-term rentals remain an available resource during this crisis, including for frontline responders, other workers requiring isolation and those sheltering in place during this crisis,” the spokesperson said.
Amid the pandemic, Airbnb has warned its users that “leisure travel should not occur right now.” But amid concerns travelers could be transmitting the disease, some condo buildings have taken matters into their own hands and attempted to ban Airbnb rentals.
The company faced questions about liability even before the pandemic, with a series of shootings at Airbnb rentals raising questions about the extent to which the platform should take responsibility for their users’ safety.
A January shooting at an Airbnb in Toronto left three dead, and prompted the condo corporation at the building involved to move to ban short-term rentals.
Airbnb has committed some 200,000 unused units worldwide for emergency housing for COVID-19 first responders and others.