Edmonton considering regulations for Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway

The City of Edmonton is considering new rules for short-term rentals, like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.

According to a report released on Aug. 8, the city is exploring ways to manage the recent short-term rental boom. 

Edmonton only had 44 listings in 2014 but now has more than 2,400, according to the report. 

The report recommends a business license requirement for hosts renting properties on home-sharing sites like Airbnb.

The proposed fee for the licence is $92. 

Alberta Health Services should also inspect all licenced short-term rentals, according to the report’s recommendations, and hosts should supply guests with information about the city’s bylaws.

The city started investigating regulation options after multiple complaints regarding disruptive and untidy short-term rental properties were filed.

“The concerns that I received in my office were from short-term rental properties that were sort of beyond the original intent of these kinds of things,” said Ward 9 Coun. Tim Cartmell. “These were homes that were being rented out to people who were subsequently having grad parties, bachelor parties, that sort of thing.”

Coun. Tim Cartmell says the city is off to a good start when it comes to regulating the short-term rental market, but he still has questions. (CBC)

Cartmell said the report’s recommendations are a good start, but he still has questions about how the system would work.

“For instance, if a licensee has a number of bylaw complaints or a number of infractions, will that impact their ability to get their licence in the following year?” the councillor said.

Edmonton’s push to regulate short-term rentals is part of a Canada-wide trend: Vancouver introduced a short-term rental business licence in September 2018. Cities like Ottawa, Saskatoon and Calgary are also exploring bylaws to curb the industry. 

Housing vacancy

A McGill University study published in June found short-term rentals may affect permanent housing availability across the country. 

According to the research, Airbnb has likely removed about 31,100 units from Canada’s long-term rental markets. 

In cities with low permanent housing vacancy rates, sites like Airbnb can be a problem because they remove potential homes from the already-scarce housing market, the study says. 

But a city like Edmonton, which has a 5.3 per cent vacancy rate, would be less affected by short-term rentals than cities with vacancy rates hovering around 1 per cent, like Toronto and Vancouver.

“That is a concern expressed by our administration that short-term rental properties have a potential to be more lucrative than long-term rental properties,” said Cartmell. “But I don’t know that we have any data to support that that’s happening yet in Edmonton.”

Sandeep Agrawal, an urban planning professor at the University of Alberta, said short-term rental business licenses will help the city determine whether Airbnb-type services affect housing.

“That way the city will have a better idea of what the situation is and whether Airbnbs are somehow impacting the long-term rental units,” Agrawal said. “At this point, we really don’t know.”

Plus, there are benefits to the short-term rental industry, Agrawal said.

“Airbnb rentals obviously provide some extra financial assistance to homeowners,” he said.

Agrawal said he supports the implementation of a bylaw that regulates the short-term rental market.

“Whenever someone goes for a short-term rental of their property, I think it needs to be inspected properly,” Agrawal said. “If the unit isn’t inspected properly, then obviously you have safety issues and you may have other issues in regards to noise and other externalities that come with having guests living in a property.”

“For that reason, licencing is a good idea.”

City council is meeting on Tuesday to discuss options.