Airbnb is exacerbating Toronto’s low vacancy rate: report

Fairbnb says the city's rental vacancy rate would increase and become “healthy” if non-compliant Airbnb units returned to the rental market

According to a new report from Fairbnb, Toronto’s rental vacancy rate would increase from around one percent to a “healthy” three per cent if non-compliant Airbnb units were returned to the rental market.

The report, released on February 20 by the coalition of housing advocates, residents and hotel workers, found that more than 7,300 Airbnb listings in Toronto do not comply with the city’s short-term rental bylaws, which are expected to be implemented this spring.

The number of “ghost hotels” – defined as entire homes that are rented out for more than 180 days a year, or are operated by hosts who have two or more entire homes for rent – increased by 13.5 per cent from 6,479 in January 2019 to 7,354 in January 2020.

Around 34 per cent of these non-compliant listings are located in the downtown waterfront condos. If the city’s bylaws were in effect today, Fairbnb estimates that nearly 2,500 listings in the waterfront area alone would be put back into the rental market.

“We keep seeing people forced out of their homes by an alarming rise in no-fault evictions,” said Bahar Shadpour of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, in a media release. “Tenants who are evicted regularly see their home appearing on Airbnb’s listings. We can’t let the displacement of tenants become the norm in our city.”

Fairbnb’s report is based on data from the New York-based researcher, Murray Cox of Inside Airbnb and looked at listings from January 2019 to January 2020.

In an emailed statement, Airbnb spokesperson Alexandra Dagg said the company is supporting the city’s new licensing system and added the report’s numbers may not be accurate.

“Fairbnb’s report conveniently ignores an important fact: the city of Toronto has not yet implemented its licensing and registration system, and we continue to support the city’s efforts to reach the spring 2020 deadline they have outlined for implementation,” she wrote.

According to the company, data scraping methods third-parties such as InsideAirbnb use can lead to faulty numbers. For example, if a host blocks off specific dates, data scrapers could still count those as dates booked and could skew results. 

In 2017, the city approved new a zoning bylaw amendment that would only allow Torontonians to rent up to three bedrooms in a principal residence for fewer than 28 consecutive days or an entire house or apartment for up to 180 days a year.

However, the rules have not been put into effect as it was contested by a group of Airbnb hosts. Although the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) dismissed those appeals in November 2019, the group is currently appealing to the divisional courts.

In the meantime, the city plans to implement the new bylaw sometime this spring.

In the LPAT ruling, adjudicator Scott Tousaw wrote that the new rules could bring back thousands of units to Toronto’s rental housing stock. “Whatever the number, one fact is indisputable: each dedicated [short-term rental] unit displaces one permanent household. That household must find another place to live,” writes Tousaw.

In January, a shooting during a party at an Airbnb in a downtown condo unit left three young men dead. The tragedy prompted Airbnb to announce they would restrict new guests under the age of 25 to entire homes.


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