Airbn-be gone! Dealing with short-term accommodations in strata buildings

How do we get rid of an owner’s Airbnb business?

You and your neighbours are original owners and occupants of a strata building in downtown Vancouver. You pride yourselves on the sense of community, tranquility and good will that has been built over the last six years.

Three years ago, you were elected to the strata council and played a key role in having a rental restriction bylaw passed by the owners in order to ensure long-term occupancy in your building. You continue to serve on council to this day.

At its last meeting, it was brought to the council’s attention that a new owner has been listing his ground-floor unit on Airbnb.ca and that some of his short-term occupants have held noisy, late-night parties that significantly disturbed the neighbouring units. The council president is adamant that the council should fine this owner for each incident of allowing an occupant to cause unreasonable noise in contravention of the strata corporation’s bylaws.

You agree with president’s suggestion but are also of the opinion that the council should seek to enforce the current rental restriction bylaw which prohibits rentals that are shorter than one month. You believe it would be more effective to prevent this owner from ever listing his unit on Airbnb in the first place rather than taking remedial action only after a disturbance has already occurred.

A recent news report suggests that, as of August 2016, there are nearly 5,000 active online short-term accommodation listings in Vancouver alone with Airbnb listings accounting for the vast majority of them. Many affordable housing advocates argue that the rise of Airbnb has contributed to the dwindling availability of rental housing stock in the city which, in turn, has caused rental prices to skyrocket.

In addressing the issue of short-term accommodations, the knee-jerk reaction of many strata councils has been to attempt to enforce existing rental restriction bylaws that require the tenancy term of rented units to be a minimum of one month. While the jury is still out on whether this is an effective strategy, at least one previous court decision suggests that short term accommodations are not rentals but rather licenses to occupy a strata lot. If this is the case, then rental restriction bylaws are not adequate in order to fully address the issue of short-term accommodations in strata buildings.

It is recommended that strata corporations beef up and enforce their “use of property” bylaws in order to explicitly target and prohibit the commercial use of strata lots. The obvious advantage of such bylaws is that they do not get caught up in the characterization debate concerning these accommodations (i.e. rental vs. license to occupy). Rather, they focus on the purpose and effect of an owner’s actions.

Strata councils may also consider adopting an additional bylaw which prohibits the advertising and listing of strata lots on websites such as Airbnb. This type of infraction would be much easier to prove in a court or a tribunal as opposed to an allegation that an owner has had a short-term occupant stay at his or her strata lot.

In enforcing bylaws, strata councils can take a two-pronged approach. They may seek to fine owners for each contravention. With the advent of the Civil Resolution Tribunal, they may also wish to apply to obtain an order from the Tribunal that an owner stop contravening the bylaws.

>> Read Part 1 of this series: “Dealing with short-term accommodations in residential tenancies” 

SUGGESTED SHORT-TERM ACCOMMODATION BYLAW

USE OF PROPERTY:

“A strata lot must not be used by an owner, tenant, occupant or visit for short-term accommodation purposes, such as a bed-and-breakfast, lodging house, hotel, home exchange, time share or vacation rental. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, an owner, tenant or occupant must not enter into a license for the use of all or part of a strata lot.”