VICTORIA — New legislation that takes aim at rapidly expanding short-term rentals in British Columbia will increase badly needed long-term rental housing, Premier David Eby said after the act was introduced in the legislature Monday.
A major thrust of the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act involves forcing those who offer short-term accommodation to actually live on the property, he told a news conference.
The government is also set to increase fines for short-term rental operators who break municipal bylaws and will require short-term rental platforms to share data with the province for enforcement and tax purposes, Eby said.
"These actions will return literally thousands of homes back to the market," he said.
"We are taking an all-hands-on-deck, all-of-the-above approach to housing. This is one more step in our larger housing strategy to ensure B.C. is a great place to visit for tourists, but also to live for the people who make this province go."
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said he's not aware of any jurisdictions in North America, or even around the world, that have set a principal residence requirement like the one in the legislation.
Kahlon said vacancy rates across the province are extremely low, people are struggling to find affordable homes and short-term rentals remove thousands of homes from B.C. communities.
"There's a lot of ways for investors to make money, and what we're saying is that our valuable housing stock in not the place you should be doing it," he said. "You should probably be thinking about a new profit scheme in the very near future."
The legislation would limit short-term rentals to within a host's own home, or a basement suite or laneway home on their property.
Fines for hosts who break local bylaw rules will jump from $1,000 to $3,000 for each infraction per day. There will also be a requirement for short-term rental platforms to share data with municipalities and include business licences and registration numbers of listings.
The changes will be phased in, with the principal residence rule to be implemented by next May and data sharing expected from platforms by next summer.
Short-term rental hosts will also have to join a provincial registry, and the government will launch a compliance and enforcement unit to make sure the rules are being followed.
A statement from Alex Howell, policy manager with Airbnb Canada, said the proposed legislation won't alleviate the province's housing concerns.
"Instead it will take money out of the pockets of British Columbians, make travel more unaffordable for millions of residents who travel within B.C., and reduce tourism spending in communities where hosts are often the only providers of local accommodations," Howell's statement read.
Most of the rules will apply to communities with a population of 10,000 or more.
The province names 58 communities — from Vancouver to Sechelt — as having a population of more than 10,000 people and it also includes eight adjacent communities that would be covered under the new regulations.
Howell called on B.C. to "pursue more sensible regulation," choosing instead to listen to tourists and businesses who will face impacts from the legislation.
The housing crisis is an issue of building more supply in B.C. and not restricting short-term rentals, Howell said.
A joint statement from Eby's and Kahlon's offices said short-term rental listings on online platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO, Expedia and FlipKey are at an all-time high after expanding rapidly since the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are approximately 28,000 daily active short-term rental listings in B.C., an increase of 20 per cent from a year ago, the statement said.
Eby said the government is taking action to reduce "profit-driven mini-hotel operators."
"Without question short-term rentals have gotten out of control," he said. "This is one more step to address the housing crisis."
Opposition BC United housing critic Karin Kirkpatrick said she has concerns about the possible emergence of an unregulated short-term rentals black market if operators look to avoid the new rules.
"Compliance is going to be really tough on this," she said.
Adam Olsen with the B.C. Greens said he supports the government move to regulate short-term rental investment properties.
"The B.C. Green Caucus has long championed the need to view housing as a human right, not as a commodity," he said in a statement.
Olsen also addressed the issue of housing supply, saying "the efficient redistribution of existing supply" is part of the solution in addition to building new homes.
A statement from David Wachsmuth, the Canada Research Chair in urban governance at McGill University, said the new policies in B.C. will set a Canadian standard that the rest of the country should emulate.
"These are sensible, evidence-based rules that are going to prioritize the needs of B.C. residents and get available rental housing back on the long-term market where it belongs."
Research from McGill University specifically on the B.C. market has indicated there are more than 16,000 entire homes being used for short-term rentals. Ten per cent of the hosts earn 48 per cent of all revenue and nearly half of the operators have multiple listings, the research said.
A statement from Airbnb said it disputes the findings, adding its own data shows 83 per cent of hosts share one home.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2023.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press