Thinking about “Space-Sharing”? Here are Some Legal Considerations

As the busy holiday tourist season approaches in British Columbia, visitors looking for  alternatives to expensive hotel accommodations are increasingly seeking out “space-sharing” services such as Airbnb, Homeaway and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner). Airbnb’s online platform allows home or condo owners to advertise their homes for rent to travelers or tourists on a short term basis. Airbnb also offers an online payment system which collects payment from the traveller and releases the funds to the host 24 hours after check-in.

A quick search online shows that there is no shortage of Airbnb listings in British Columbia, particularly in the Lower Mainland.  Many of the units offered for rent are situated within strata developments and are listed as being available on a short term basis, often only for a few days.  One reason homeowners find Airbnb so attractive is because these short term vacation rentals typically fall outside the scope of residential tenancy legislation.

However, hosts that list their property or condo unit on Airbnb should be aware that other rules and regulations may apply to short term vacation rentals. For example, owners of properties that form part of a strata corporation should first consult their strata bylaws for any rental restrictions before making a listing on Airbnb. Even for property owners that are not part of a strata corporation, there may be local government zoning and development bylaws which restrict short term vacation rentals.

In Vancouver for example, short term vacation rentals technically violate City of Vancouver Zoning & Development Bylaw 3575.  Section 10.19.4 of the bylaw specifies that “No person shall use or permit to be used any sleeping unit for a period of less than one month unless such unit forms part of a hotel.” Section 10.21.6 of the bylaw stipulates that “No person shall use or permit to be used any dwelling unit for a period of less than one month unless such unit forms part of a hotel or is used for bed and breakfast accommodation.”

Interestingly, many of these violations go unpunished, as bylaw enforcement tends to be complaint-driven.  Similar restrictions are also found in City of Victoria bylaws, however, the City of Victoria seems to be taking a more proactive approach to dealing with short term vacation rentals.  City of Victoria staff have reportedly been in discussions to enter into a partnership with Airbnb that would allow the city to collect fees akin to a hotel tax and if councillors agree, the City of Victoria staff hope to enter into formal meetings with Airbnb to address zoning and bylaw issues, among other things.  The sharing economy is gaining momentum and it looks like some local/municipal governments are taking welcome steps to start to regulate these services.

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