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Eby warns investors that rules limiting short-term rentals come into effect May 1

But the premier said if someone wants to rent out their home during a major event, they can still do that
The Falls condos on Courtney Street in Victoria have been home to a number of vacation rentals. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Premier David Eby is warning real estate investors and speculators that his government is tilting the rules toward families seeking homes as it tightens the rules on short-term rentals.

Eby said Thursday that the rule changes on May 1 will limit short-term rental units to within the principal home of a host, but the move isn’t a ban on platforms such as Airbnb if they aren’t used to create de facto hotels from B.C.’s housing stock.

“If there’s a major event [such as a] Taylor Swift concert, a FIFA-like event and somebody wants to rent out their primary residence and go away for the weekend to avoid the crush of the crowds, they can still do that,” Eby said.

The changes were announced by the government last spring, giving those who own short-term rentals a year to conform.

Eby said the changes will allow both the province and local governments to crack down on speculators.

“If you’re flipping homes, if you’re buying places to do short-term rental, if you’re buying a home to leave it vacant, we have consistently, publicly, repeatedly sent the message: Do not compete with families and individuals that are looking for a place to live with your investment dollars.”

Eby made his comments as the province announced new figures gathered in March that showed more than 19,000 entire homes being listed as short-term rentals.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said the new rules also require short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb to share listed property data with the province and local governments.

He said they expect a significant amount of the homes listed on short-term sites to be back in the long-term rental pool.

“Our view is even if half of those units were to come back onto the market, that is substantial,” Kahlon said. “The cost that it takes to build new housing, when you can get even half of the 19,000 back on the market, that’ll make a substantial difference in our communities.”

He said previous efforts to limit short-term rentals are increasing housing supply in some places.

“We’re seeing, already, in many communities that action happening,” Kahlon said. “We have heard many stories of people finding rentals now because of opportunities when it comes to short-term rentals coming onto the market.”

The new principal residence requirement for short-term rentals will allow local governments to request that a platform remove listings that don’t display a valid business licence.

Valid short-term rental hosts will also be required to display a business licence number on their listings if a licence is required by local government.

The new rules will apply to more than 60 B.C. communities, and Kahlon said a compliance enforcement unit will be phased in to help municipalities deal with rule violations.

Much of the monitoring and enforcement, however, will be conducted online through a new rental data portal that will allow local governments to track and request removal of listings from platforms.

“With this new digital portal, local governments will be able to upload, within moments, listings that they believe are operating illegally within their community,” Kahlon said.

The platform will have five days to remove listings that aren’t following the rules, and if they don’t, they will be fined, he said, noting there’s an up-to-$10,000-a-day-per-listing fine for platforms that don’t co-operate.

“We believe that’s enough of a deterrent for the platforms to co-operate with local governments,” said Kahlon

A website launched Thursday for hosts will allow them to get information about their requirements from the province and their municipality, and their responsibility to notify anyone that’s booked.

“Hosts and platforms have a responsibility to notify anyone that’s booking of all the changes that have been coming,” said Kahlon. “They’ve been notified about this since September or October when the legislation has come in, and they’ve had plenty of time to set up their policies to do that.”

The rules do include some exceptions, including some strata hotels and motels operating before last December being exempt if certain criteria are met.

Eby said the overall message to property investors looking for short-term gains is clear: Build homes that people need and government will do all it can to help expedite the process.

“But if you are standing neck and neck with a family that’s looking for a place to live, and you’re trying to do a speculative investment, [while] they’re looking for a place to live, we are going to tilt the deck every single time towards that family,” Eby said. “And we’re gonna keep doing it.”

Eby also said a positive side-effect of short-term rental regulation has been the re-emergence of hotel construction, with 1,400 rooms “in the development pipeline” in Vancouver.

“Those investors in those hotel rooms weren’t able to make the decision to proceed,” Eby said, citing the previous competition from short-term rentals. “Very clearly, with these regulations in place, there will be visitors to stay in hotel rooms, there will be a market for hotel rooms and they’re making the decision to proceed. This is very good news.”

Victoria-based Property Rights B.C. has filed a lawsuit against the province and city of Victoria to fight the new regulatory system.

It maintains the province overstepped its authority and its lawsuit is focused on preserving the rights to own and operate short-term vacation rentals. The organization is also seeking a delay in enforcement.

Asked about the lawsuit, Eby said he can’t comment on a matter that’s before the courts, “but what I can say is we’re very confident in the legal authority of the province to regulate the housing sector in this way and we’ll make the arguments that are needed in court to address that.”

More communities initially exempt from the province’s new regulations have opted in, including Gabriola Island, Mill Bay/Malahat, Cobble Hill, Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls, Saltair/Gulf Islands and North Oyster/Diamond. Tofino previously announced it would opt in.

Municipalities with fewer than 10,000 people, resort communities and regional districts are exempt from a requirement restricting short-term rentals to principal residences and either a secondary suite or laneway home/garden suite.

— With files from Carla Wilson and Cindy Harnett