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Richmond regulates short-term rentals

February 12, 2017

The City of Richmond is pressing ahead with regulations to crack down on short-term rentals amid complaints that services such as Airbnb are disrupting neighbours and taking away housing in a tight rental market.

Proposed regulations presented to city council this week would permit short-term rentals only in an owner’s primary residence and require a business licence. They would also limit the number of short-term rentals in strata buildings. Council voted to send the proposals to public hearings.

The proposed rules would not address the issue of illegal hotels on farmland in the area, which was the subject of a Globe and Mail investigation last year.

Vancouver is expected to adopt similar regulations this month, largely in response to concerns that services such as Airbnb are having a negative impact on the rental market. While similar problems have been raised in Richmond, the top complaints focus on nuisance issues such as illegal renovations, parking and noise, a staff report presented to council on Tuesday noted.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie said the city needs to address short-term rentals before they get out of hand. “We are better off to try to regulate and go forward rather than just ignore the issue, and letting a bad situation get much worse,” he said.

The city received about 100 complaints in 2016.

Under the proposed regulations, short-term rentals would be banned from strata buildings with fewer than five units. Larger buildings would be limited to six guests at a time, although the proposals did not indicate how that would be enforced.

Online booking websites such as Airbnb or Vacation Rentals By Owners could be required to obtain a permit to operate in the city.

Airbnb, which accounts for nearly half of the short-term rentals in the city, said in a statement that it is committed to working with municipalities to craft rules, but did not comment specifically about Richmond’s proposals.

Councillor Alexa Loo said the city must consider the benefits of short-term rentals to residents. “We want the flexibility for people to use their home to share,” she said.

Councillor Harold Steves, who was the only member of council to vote against the proposals, said the city should apply its existing zoning and business bylaws in such cases rather than introduce new ones.

“What’s the point [if there is a bylaw] but you are not using it?” he asked.

He noted that the proposed regulations did not address illegal hotels on farmland.

Last year, a Globe and Mail investigation found wealthy investors were buying farmland in Richmond with no intention of farming and taking advantage of tax incentives to pay almost no property taxes while, in some cases, operating illegal hotels.

Councillors voted 6-1 to send the proposals on short-term rentals to a public hearing, which will take place later this month.

The report also recommended the city discuss the issue of taxation with the provincial government.

Article complements of  The Globe and Mail

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