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Illegal short-term rentals complaints in Richmond drop during pandemic, but expected to increase

Many municipalities want short-term rentals to pay PST and the hotel tax

Complaints about illegal short-term rentals in Richmond have dropped significantly during the pandemic, but city staff expect these numbers to rise again.

In the meantime, the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) wants the industry to be regulated provincially in order to help local governments.

As of September, there were 41 complaints to Richmond’s bylaw department about illegal short-term rentals so far in 2021.

In 2019 – the last full year before the pandemic hit and international travel was severely curtailed - there were 161 complaints.

While Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he thinks the issue has been restricted somewhat since the city brought in bylaws to regulate short-term rentals, he doesn’t think this “chronic problem” has gone away.

The city tackles illegal short-term rentals based on complaints but also by actively investigating.

Difficulties arise, however, because of language problems and finding information about those running these illegal operations, Brodie said.

“To find them and then be able to demonstrate in some way they are avoiding or violating your bylaws (can) be a difficult thing,” Brodie added.

UBCM has made 13 requests to the provincial government to get help regulating short-term rentals, like the province did with illegal ride-hailing services.

UBCM pointed out in a recent press release, while local governments have regulation tools, “most lack the capacity to enforce them.”

And as the industry expands, it’s reducing rental housing.

Furthermore, UBCM is concerned municipalities can’t get accurate data on short-term rentals to know what’s happening in their own communities.

According to a survey of municipalities conducted jointly by the province and UBCM, local governments would like to see provincial regulations for short-term rentals and a requirement that those operating them post their business license online.

Local governments would also like the province to make short-term rental business owners pay provincial sales tax and the hotel tax. The latter could be used to offset the impact of the industry on housing and neighbourhoods.

Brodie said these are reasonable actions that would help regulate the short-term rental industry.

A common approach across the province with standard rules and regulations as well as assistance finding those “flaunting city bylaws” would help Richmond tackle the issue, he said.

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