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B.C. housing minister tight-lipped on looming short-term rental regulations

Ravi Kahlon has concerns with the industry as he says it’s taking up too much housing stock
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, seen in this 2021 photo, will be tabling legislation in the fall that will address housing being converted into short-term rentals and could require platforms to be more transparent with local governments. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

The province says short-term rentals have a role in tourism, but B.C.’s housing minister will bring in stronger regulations this fall after communities have expressed concerns about the extent of housing they’re losing.

“We believe there’s too much of our housing stock that is right now being used as short-term rental when it could be supporting residents in British Columbia,” Ravi Kahlon said in an interview.

Victoria is seeing a 28 per cent year-over-year increase in the number of housing units being pulled into the short-term market. Cost analyses done by the capital city, based on data from McGill University, found Victoria renter households are paying an average of $1,150 more every year due to housing being converted to vacation accommodations.

“I’m very concerned. We’re in the challenge that we’re in when it comes to housing and hearing numbers of that magnitude shifting, it’s a significant concern and not only in Victoria, this is a concern that’s being raised throughout the province,” Kahlon said.

While the province believes the short-term market plays an important role in some areas, it’s recently heard from tourism-dependant communities who are saying they don’t have enough places for their workforce to live.

The capital likely has more than enough capacity to support tourists overnighting in the city without short-term rentals. In May, the number of vacancies at the city’s traditional accommodation businesses – like hotels, motels and Bed and Breakfasts – was more than double (38,409) the nights booked at short-term rentals (19,119).

“It is a challenge that provincially we need to take on,” the housing minister said.

A Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) report commissioned by the province laid out the major challenges local governments are having with short-term rentals. Kahlon said the recommendations from that report will inform legislation changes are coming this fall.

The minister was tight-lipped on what those strengthened regulations would look like but said they’re “looking at everything.” He did say the coming actions would find a way for short-term rentals to be a part of tourism-reliant areas while also finding ways for housing to come back into the long-term market.

While the short-term stays eat into existing housing in Victoria, where 60 per cent of residents are renters, they could also be impacting the creation of new homes.

Operators must pay 11 per cent in taxes when they register their listing, with most of that going to the provincial actions aimed at improving housing affordability and three per cent going to municipalities for things like affordable housing or tourism initiatives.

Local governments are responsible for tracking down unlicensed listings and Victoria has flagged how a large number of operators are dodging licences and their associated fees. But enforcement has been a double-edged sword, with Victoria indicating it may not be breaking on the revenue it collects – which pays for already overwhelmed staff tasked with overseeing the short-term market.

The UBCM report cited by Kahlon found provincial support is needed in two key areas: upping enforcement to ensure all listings are licensed and better data transparency from platforms.

He’s been speaking with his counterparts from across Canada about the short-term rental issues and that’s included talks with the housing minister of Quebec. That province has recently tabled legislation that would shift responsibility to platforms, like Airbnb or Vrbo, requiring them to make data available to local governments.

Kahlon said it’s a concern local governments are seeing unregistered listings and that will be addressed in the policy changes set to come forward when the legislature resumes in October and November.

He’s also aware of an issue Victoria has raised around legal non-conforming buildings. Condo units in those buildings have grandfathered-in short-term rental allowances because that use predated the city’s bylaws. Victoria’s regulations can’t block legal non-conforming units from entering the short-term market without provincial legislation changes, and the city said that means hundreds of units could be converted.

City staff also said they regularly get asked for a list of all the legal non-conforming units, mostly by realtors and investors.

READ: Limited authority irks Victoria as short-term rentals snatch up housing

READ: Hundreds of Victoria short-term rental hosts dodging regulations and fees

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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