Montreal borough votes to restrict Airbnb style rentals in downtown core

A Montreal borough is bringing in new rules aimed at limiting the number of short-term rentals in the city’s downtown core in the hopes of preventing conflicts between tourists and residents. Councillors in the Ville-Marie borough adopted a new motion Tuesday evening to restrict private tourist rentals such as those offered on Airbnb.

Ville-Marie, Montreal, Airbnb
Encompassing all of downtown Montreal, the borough of Ville-Marie has voted to restrict Airbnb and similar short-term rental accommodations. Photo by Taxiarchos228 via Wikimedia Commons.

The rules will limit new permits for “tourist residences” to a 3.3-kilometre stretch surrounding one of the city’s busiest commercial streets and will prevent new rentals from opening within 150 metres of each other.

City documents state the bylaw is designed to “substantially limit” the number of short-term rentals in order to “prevent problematic cohabitation issues between tourists and residents.”

“Elected officials want the downtown area to remain an inhabited, healthy and supportive environment for the establishment of families,” the city said in a recent statement.

The province defines a tourist residence as any unit that is rented for 31 days or less on a regular basis.

Real Carbonneau, who owns a unit in the Tour des Canadiens condo tower next to Montreal’s bustling Bell Centre, estimates that about half the units in the building are rented out on Airbnb full time and are “pretty much full-time hotel rooms.”

He says he’s grown tired of hearing noise from late-night parties and that an endless parade of strange tourists has left him feeling unsafe.

On one memorable occasion, he opened his door to see a vomit-stained hallway and renters passed out in front of an open unit door.

Carbonneau said he tried to talk to his condo board and managers but got nowhere because “there’s so much money in this that no one cares.”

While he welcomes new rules to crack down on full-time commercial operators, he’s skeptical the new rules will change much.

He said existing rules are rarely enforced, noting that many of the operators in his building are already defying a provincial requirement to register their units and pay taxes on the rentals.

“All these people were doing it illegally before, the people will continue doing it illegally after, and the people who did hold permits will continue to hold them,” he said in a phone interview.

Cities across Canada are also grappling with how to regulate short-term rentals amid wider concerns they contribute to housing unaffordability and take long-term rentals off the market.

In the past year, the governments of Quebec and British Columbia reached agreements with Airbnb in which the platform agreed to collect tax on short-term rentals.

Cities such as Toronto and Vancouver have put their own rules in place, including a recent decision by Vancouver city council to restrict listings to an owner’s primary residence, with few exceptions.

A 2017 study by McGill University found that Airbnb has removed as many as 14,000 units of housing from rental markets in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

It also found that a small number of owners of large commercial properties accounted for nearly half of the $430 million yearly revenue in the three Canadian cities.

These findings were disputed by Airbnb, which claims the vast majority of users are ordinary people who occasionally rent out part of or all of their primary residence to earn money to help pay their bills.

Of some 14,300 “entire home listings” in Montreal, more than 80 per cent were rented for fewer than 180 days between May 2017 and May 2018, the company said earlier this week.

Almost two-thirds, or 63 per cent, were listed for fewer than 90 days.

“Simply put, entire home listings on Airbnb are not a driver of housing prices in Montreal,” the company said in a statement

Airbnb added it wants to work with the city to ensure new rules balance affordability concerns with people’s rights to share their homes.

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