New Airbnb regulations following waterfront condo deaths

February 10, 2020 | Justin McLarty

The tragic shooting that resulted in three deaths at a Waterfront Toronto Airbnb condo on January 31, 2020 has brought safety concerns associated with Airbnb rentals back into the public spotlight. The response to this issue is developing rapidly, with Airbnb announcing two new measures in Canada:

  1. No one under the age of 25 may rent an entire home, but he/she will continue to be allowed to rent private rooms. The policy is still a work in progress and may contain exceptions for locals under the age of 25 who have “positive reviews.” This policy is expected to come into effect in February 2020 and is a pilot program limited to Canada for the time being.
  2. A twenty-four hour “neighbourhood hotline” will be established to respond to neighbours’ concerns. A similar hotline has already been established in the United States.

Safety and nuisance concerns over Airbnb rentals disproportionately affect condo units in the City of Toronto. As the exact locations of Airbnb rentals are only disclosed after booking a unit, concrete statistics are difficult to gather. Residents, board members and property managers in popular rental areas are nevertheless far too familiar with the disruption caused by units that are used as Airbnb’s.

The age based restrictions may be an additional positive step towards eliminating so-called “party rentals.” We expect that there could be a challenge to this new policy, for instance claims of discrimination on the basis of age. There are already concerns, however, over the exception for local guests with “positive reviews” given the use of Airbnb rentals in popular areas like the Entertainment District in Toronto by residents of the Greater Toronto Area.

As the policy has not even come into force yet, we do not wish to speculate on the enforceability of this new requirement but expect reasonable supporting grounds related to safety concerns could be advanced (similar to certain age restrictions on rental cars, for example).

The new neighbourhood hotline is another interesting development. In the past, there have been reports of slow response times to complaints submitted to Airbnb and automatic or stock replies to neighbours’ concerns.

While the new hotline almost certainly will not be able to resolve issues in real time, it is possible that an increased awareness of “party units” and multiple complaints will result in Airbnb refusing further listings for that unit. There have been stories from the United States, which already has a similar service, that complaints from neighbours have resulted in listings being removed from the Airbnb platform.

This is an opportune time for condos that have not enacted any short-term leasing rules to consider doing so. Depending on the use-of-unit provisions found in each corporation’s declaration, it may not be possible to enact restrictions, and legal counsel should be contacted to review possible options with the board. The increased awareness of security concerns related to Airbnb rentals should, however, improve owner engagement with proposed short-term rental prohibitions.

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