The road ahead for municipalities trying to grapple with the sharing economy is still rocky, says UBC professor Erez Aloni, who points out that the challenge will be to get industry leaders like Airbnb and Uber to participate in regulatory frameworks.
Vancouverites will get their say tomorrow on the Airbnb issue as the city hosts a public hearing on its proposed rules to regulate the industry. Officially still illegal in Vancouver, the new regulations which would come into effect next April and would see homeowners and renters allowed to put up their primary residences for short-term rental of less than 30 days, provided that they obtain a license from the city.
“Our approach is to strike a balance between regulating the short-term rentals and ensuring that some people can continue to do that,” Robertson said in September 2016 when city council first discussed its regulatory plans.
A good start, says Fairbnb Vancouver, a coalition of property owners, community groups and hotel industry representatives who are pushing for stronger regulations, arguing that access to affordable housing in cities like Vancouver and Toronto make it crucial that rules around room-sharing should come with some teeth.
“We believe the platforms themselves, like Airbnb, also need to be held accountable for what they publish,” says Octavian Cadabeschi with UNITE HERE! Local 40, a member of the Fairbnb coalition to News 1130. “Basically, we just don’t think that regulation that doesn’t include that… is going to be effective in terms of achieving the ends that the city is looking to achieve,” he says.
Aloni agrees, calling Vancouver’s proposed approach “innovative” yet doubtful in its potential effectiveness, since it doesn’t hit at the root of the problem. “So far, I don’t think there’s one [approach] that has been very successful,” says Aloni of UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law in a press release.
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“San Francisco has enacted an ordinance that prohibits short-term rental platforms from posting units from lessors who haven’t registered with the city, so they are now going to work with the city,” he says. “Without the cooperation of the platforms, I don’t see how you are going to enforce it.”
According to a study from McGill University earlier this year, the short-term rental industry now has about 24,000 listings, altogether earning about $22 million a year. Up to one-quarter of those listings are thought to be commercially rented, in other words, where the property owner doesn’t live at that residence.
Aloni says there are advantages to the sharing economy that come when under-utilized resources such as a spare room or that car sitting in your driveway are put to good use, but the difficulty comes from trying to distinguish such instances from commercially run businesses. Aloni says the multiple and sometimes competing interests (home owners versus renters and hotel operators in the case of Airbnb, side-gig car owners versus taxicab drivers in the case of Uber) only adds to the complexity.
“The challenge is to balance all those interests, efficiently distinguish between the different types of activity, and then enforce regulations, especially when dealing with a high number of small-scale transactions,” says Aloni.