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Vancouver renters worry about evictions as COVID restrictions ease, Airbnbs return

Last Updated Jun 23, 2021 at 1:24 pm PDT

FILE - Vancouver. (Riley Phillips, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Urban planner says there could be 'tougher times for renters ahead' without better regulations in Vancouver

Concerns more long-term rental properties will revert to short-term options like Airbnb as BC travel resumes after COVID

Advocates worry more Vancouverites will face evictions as landlords look to make more profits with short-term rentals

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As COVID-19 restrictions are slowly lifted in B.C., some renters around Vancouver are worried they may be evicted from their homes as landlords look to flip properties back onto the short-term rental market.

It’s an already tight market, and it may lose more units to short-term vacation rentals like Airbnb as we see daily COVID-19 case counts drop and a general improvement of our pandemic situation.

“We did see some increase in terms of the number of vacancies that were available in Vancouver, but I think what was interesting was to see how rents didn’t necessarily decline,” explained Andy Yan, director of the City Program at SFU.

“I think that with the very slow (pandemic) recovery that’s going to happen, what’s probably going to happen is that some of that stock that was attempting to move into the long-term rental market is going to, probably, quite possibly, revert back to the short-term rental market, the Airbnb market,” Yan told NEWS 1130, adding landlords can make a lot more money running an Airbnb.

Fewer people have been travelling amid the pandemic, especially over the past few months, when travel restrictions were introduced. Short-term rentals were also a focus for the province last summer, when an order was introduced requiring such rentals to limit the number of guests and visitors allowed in those spaces in an effort to curb virus transmission.

However, now that B.C. is in the second step of its restart plan, meaning recreational travel around the province is once again allowed, Yan says there could be challenges waiting for renters.

“I think that will be something to find out, the level of uncertainty. This is of course connected into whether people feel comfortable or are able to travel … but then, of course, there’s also going into the levels of regulation,” he explained.

Landlord group says renters have protections

Hunter Boucher with Landlord BC points out that technically, it is tough to evict people and flip their properties back to short-term vacation rentals. He says short-term rentals are not listed in the Residential Tenancy Act as a reason to end a tenancy.

“If you’re ending a tenancy for landlord’s use, essentially, what you’re saying is that you are going to be using the property and living in there. So you’d have to actually live there and live there for at least six months. Really, that’s meant to be used in situations where clearly the owner wants to move into the unit,” he explained.

“The closest type of notice and tenancy that could apply in these situations is moving into a non-residential use.”

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But Megan Milton, a volunteer with the Vancouver Tenants Union, is still worried more people will be kicked out by landlords looking to covert, and though there are protections in place, she says it’s a difficult process for a tenant to prove a bad-faith eviction.

“They have to get evicted first, find a new place to live, move, and then sit there on Airbnb every single day and look for their old apartment to show up. That’s not an easy system,” Milton explained.

In the City of Vancouver, all Airbnbs need a business licence to be listed. A deal announced in 2018 between the city and the company required people who list their properties on that site to also include that ID in the listing.

Both Yan and Milton say it’s vital for the City of Vancouver to enforce its short-term rental regulations for landlords, though there are still some challenges that remain.

“I think it’s really going to touch on some ongoing, profound challenges for renters,” Yan said, pointing to research that highlights the negative effects short-term rentals have on markets.

“Without proper regulation which is enforced, I think this is going to mean tougher times for renters ahead,” added Yan. 

Milton says while the city has regulations in place that can help track illegal Airbnbs in Vancouver, whether an Airbnb is legal or not doesn’t necessarily protect a tenant from being evicted.

“This actually happens all the time. Landlord-use evictions are notorious for having folks be evicted under false pretenses and then find their rental up, being rented again. It’s a very difficult thing to enforce,” she told NEWS 1130, adding there are avenues tenants can take.

However, she admits there’s really no way to track such a circumstance without having to scour short-term rental listings.

“There is going to be a new Airbnb portal for cities and law enforcement to look at all of this data. But, at the end of the day, they can talk all they’d like about that, it’s not actually going to protect the renters. We need much stronger regulations, we need to protect long-term rentals,” she said, noting evictions currently aren’t being tracked.

“It’s impossible to even gather this data because our residential tenancy is lacking so much already that Airbnb is just adding fuel to fire here,” Milton explained.

Yan says the pandemic and its impacts on the short-term rental market have illustrated how much it takes away from local renters, and underscored just how key enforcement of short-term rental regulations are to keeping the market open.

Milton agrees.

“This is very anecdotal, but one of the things that we did see early on in the pandemic, when it became very clear that tourism was not going to be coming back the way it had been, we saw a huge flood on the rental market of things opening up. And it was becoming slightly more affordable for a very small time. I think that you can see a little more of a correlation between the fact that Airbnbs took a dip and the fact that there were more rentals available,” she said.

-With files from Tarnjit Parmar and Denise Wong