Quebec’s new Airbnb legislation could be a model for Canada and help alleviate the housing crisis

For years, Quebec has had this many specialists considered one of the strictest laws in Canada to regulate Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms.

Airbnb hosts had to register with the provincial government or risk fines.

But it was also clear that the law wasn’t actually working, with the vast majority of listings from Montreal on the platform being unlicensed.

The problem was highlighted after a fire in March at a heritage building in Old Montreal that killed seven people – several of whom resided in Illegal Airbnbs.

On Tuesday, the provincial government tabled updated legislation to ensure only eligible registered hosts can post an ad.

“This new law is a pretty big step forward there, because it really tightens the constraints,” said Professor David Wachsmuth of McGill University, Canada Research Chair in Urban Governance.

“It’s a very good model that I think other provinces, and certainly Ontario and British Columbia, the other big provinces, should look to emulate.”

Such a system, Wachsmuth said, would allow municipalities to set their own rules and use the provincial database to ensure those rules are enforced.

Seven people died in a fire that broke out in March in a heritage building in Old Montreal. Many of them were staying in illegal Airbnbs. (Steve Rompré/Radio-Canada)

patchwork system

Effectively regulating short-term rentals could help ease housing market strains in many parts of Canada, said Wachsmuth, who has studied the Airbnb impact on the market.

Her research 2019 found that the company likely caused the withdrawal of 31,000 units from the long-term rental market in Canada.

“Short-term rentals are one of the factors currently contributing to high house prices, both in terms of owner-occupied housing and rents,” he said.

“It’s just because they’ve been responsible for converting thousands of homes into proper hotels.”

Currently, there is a patchwork of regulations across the country that attempts to rein in short-term rentals.

Vancouver and Toronto already have rules in place, for example, while Halifax is implementing changes starting September 1. Other small municipalities, such as Mont-Cascades, Quebec, have recently decided to ban short-term rentals altogether.

British Columbia is also developing its own provincial politics around the short-term rental.

Charge on Airbnb

Quebec had previously required all short-term units to be registered and display this number on the list, but the rules were not being adequately enforced. In some cases, hosts have been found to use false registration numbers.

Under Quebec’s new bill, titled “An Act to Combat Illegal Tourist Accommodation”, rental companies such as Airbnb would be required to keep records of the registration certificate of each advertised accommodation.

They should also validate the registration numbers of these establishments and appoint a representative based in Quebec to facilitate contact with someone from the rental company.

The bill also provides for the creation of a public register of tourist accommodation, kept by the Minister of Tourism or by an organization recognized by the Minister.

Fines against people who fail to comply would be between $5,000 and $50,000, while businesses could face fines of $10,000 to $100,000 per posting.

“With the new standards, with cities and boroughs, I believe there will be a lot of compliance,” Quebec Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx said in announcing the legislation.

WATCH | How the law would target rental companies:

Quebec cracks down on Airbnb

The Quebec government introduced a bill to crack down on short-term rentals after a deadly fire in Old Montreal killed seven people in March. Most of the dead were staying in illegal Airbnbs. The bill will target digital platforms like Airbnb with fines of up to $100,000 if they fail to comply with local laws.

Airbnb, for its part, released a statement saying it was still analyzing the legislation.

“We’ll have more to say after further consideration,” said Nathan Rotman, regional policy manager for Canada.

The company had promised to withdraw any Montreal registration without a valid permit following the fire in Old Montreal.

But before the new legislation was introduced, critics had worried that there were still not the necessary regulations in place to hold companies accountable.

“We shouldn’t rely on Airbnb to decide there’s a PR crisis every once in a while to live up to their end of the bargain,” Wachsmuth said.

“Nothing replaces a universal, platform-compliant registration system… They should proactively remove ads that don’t have current numbers, and the new law that’s being proposed here today is going to make a lot of more likely that Airbnb and other platforms are doing their part reliably.”

“They should have some kind of responsibility”

In Montreal, where many districts have already put in place rules prohibiting or limiting short-term rentals, the changes could put thousands of apartments back on the market.

Nearly 30,000 listings were posted on Airbnb in February, for example, and almost 80% of the homes advertised were not authorized for short-term rental, according to a survey by a local renters’ group, the RCLALQ.

Steve Fabre owns two legal Airbnb units in Montreal. He got a registration number after being fined for directing them without a number.

In his view, the changes are positive, as they will impose accountability on Airbnb and other companies and make it easier for landlords to come into compliance.

“Since Airbnb obviously makes a lot more money than the users, the point is that they should have some sort of responsibility,” he said.

A man wearing a winter jacket stands in front of tall buildings.
Thorben Wieditz is the director of Fairbnb, a national coalition of organizations advocating for stricter regulations on short-term rentals. (Yanjun Li/CBC News)

Fairbnb director Thorben Wieditz hopes the legislation will set a new national standard, by which other provinces will establish their own registries.

His organization was founded in 2016 by a union of Toronto hotel workers concerned about the proliferation of condo towers filled with Airbnb rentals.

Fairbnb has since pushed cities across Canada to develop stricter rules that allow landlords to rent out their own homes on occasion, but crack down on properties used only as short-term rentals.

“There are many, many municipalities that don’t have the resources that a city like Vancouver or Toronto has, and they need help,” he said.

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