Airbnb managers push back on Ottawa’s proposed short-term rental regulations

airbnb

Over the past three years, Scott Clement and his colleagues at breathebnb Vacation Rental Management have built a thriving business catering to Airbnb hosts who need help renting out their properties.

Now at 40 employees, the Ottawa-based firm manages about 85 Airbnbs in Ottawa-Gatineau, Kingston, Prince Edward County, the Muskoka region and Gananoque. The company, which offers a range of services from booking guests and designing rooms to cleaning homes and taking care of lawns, has seen its revenues rise by 300 per cent a year since it was launched in the summer of 2016.

But Clement says he fears new regulations on short-term rental accommodations proposed by the City of Ottawa could “ruin” the firm’s ambitious plans for future growth.

“We’re pretty disappointed with what they’ve come to the table with,” he told OBJ this week.

Under the proposed new rules, Airbnbs and the like would be restricted to a property owner or tenant’s primary residence, meaning hosts could no longer rent out income properties to short-term guests. Hosts would be required to provide proof of residence such as a lease or deed in order to be eligible for a short-term rental permit and would be allowed to rent out only one housing unit at any given time.

Staff said the new rules are designed to weed out so-called “ghost hotels” run by commercial operators who own multiple properties. Critics argue that such operations reduce the stock of rental accommodation available to long-term tenants and disrupt residential neighbourhoods. 

A city staff report released this week said recent research suggested there are more than 1,200 “likely commercial operators” of such properties in Ottawa. 

But Clement said those figures could include investors who’ve purchased multimillion-dollar houses with the intent of renting them out as high-end guest homes.

“All of a sudden, you’re wiping out some major investments that people have made, really right overnight,” he said. “The ecosystem has been built now, and it’s about to get wiped out just because the city doesn’t want to accept a new way of lodging within the city limits.”

Clement said a 2016 survey of hosts in Santa Barbara, Calif., suggested only about five per cent would convert their properties to long-term rentals if short-term rentals were banned.

“It won’t make anything more affordable for anyone,” he said.

Genevieve Walton, the founder of local Airbnb management company Short and Suite BNB, agreed that limiting short-term rentals to primary residences would put a damper on the industry.

Walton, whose two-year-old business now employs more than 30 people and manages about 150 Airbnb properties, said some guests require specially modified accommodations, while others don’t feel comfortable staying in someone’s spare bedroom.

“To restrict short-term rentals to primary residences means that they will be less accessible to certain groups,” she said in an email to OBJ. “This will have a negative impact on Ottawa tourism, but also individuals needing temporary accommodations.”

Clement said the new rules would have a “huge impact” on his business. He accused the hotel industry of “trying to stir up” resentment against operators of short-term rentals who are taking customers away from them.

“We’re just a newer, progressive business model that’s potentially taking a bit of money out of their pockets, and they’re going to do anything to stop us,” he said.

Walton has started a campaign against the primary residency requirement called Let’s Share Ottawa, and more than 3,000 people have signed an online petition she created. Both Clement and Walton plan to appear at City Hall next Friday morning when the proposal is presented at the next meeting of the community and protective services committee.