Laws are almost irrelevant if you do not have access to Airbnb data to implement them " says David Wachsmuth. Associate Professor in Urban Planning, McGill University.
Despite legislation seeking to limit and control online short-term rentals, Montreal has five of the ten neighbourhoods with the highest concentrations of properties on Airbnb in Canada. Large commercial operators are posing as ordinary residents to rent out their properties. A Canadian Braodcasting Corporation / Radio Canada report reveals the negative impact this is having on the supply of affordable housing, and the extent to which large companies are active in acquiring and renting these properties. The findings are based on an analysis of all listings advertising an entire home or suite that appeared on Airbnb's website on April 9 and 10, 2019, for 16 Canadian cities.
"Hundreds of Airbnb’s most active listings are in zones prohibited to short-term rentals. According to the City of Montreal, the listings illegally on offer to tourists through the Airbnb platform could count in the thousands," says the report. There were more than 9,700 listings for entire homes in Montreal on the platform. In some neighbourhoods, the ratio of Airbnb listings to dwellings is as high as one in 15. The highest concentrations are in Old Montreal, downtown Montreal, and in Saint-Louis in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough. Social housing groups want Airbnb-type short-term rentals to be banned in these neighbourhoods.
The head of the city's Housing Committee says, “We can tally up thousands of lodgings being illegally rented out commercially for the tourist trade, and those are lost to the residential housing market.” The research report highlighted three major players, who are also three of the four main companies using Airbnb across Canada as a whole. A California-based company, Sonder, manages over 1000 properties worlwide, with 180 of them in Montreal. Corporate Stays, a company with offices in Montreal and Panama that mostly rents longer-term executive suites to businesses relocating staff, appears to have operated in Montreal under the name of Alejandro, described as an ordinary, travel-loving resident. Alejandro had 160 Airbnb listings in Montreal. Alexander J. Zakowski, rents furnished suites to university students and puts them on Airbnb as nightly rentals during the summer. He has 90, advertised as "A.J.", a former software engineer-turned-event planner, with a stock photo of a male model on his website.
Regulation exists but appears to be ineffective. A permit for a short-term rental is valid for an unlimited number of lodgings, as long as they are in “contiguous buildings” or grouped together. While there have been calls in UK and eleswhere to set a maximum limit on the number of nights a property can be rented out, in Quebec a permit is required for a place rented out for less than 31 days: 31 days or longer, no permit is required. However, the report says that no fines have been imposed, and criticism is made here, as elsewhere, that those renting out properties are able to evade tax. ""Most of what's happening on Airbnb isn't home-sharing," says Professor Wachsmuth. "Instead, it's something much more like commercial short-term rental operations."
The regulation of short-term lets through the planning system was one of a number of spats during the passing of the Scottish Planning Bill, so the words of Professor Wachsmuth are worth pondering: "It almost doesn't matter what kind of regulation you put in place if you can't get the data necessary to enforce it.”