Short-term rental policy softened by city staff

Owners need not be present to operate an Airbnb establishment

Residents in condos and townhouses will continue to be able to list their couch or bed for rent on a daily basis. 

The News previously reported such rentals would be stricken from websites such as Expedia and Airbnb, under new short-term rental policies being drafted by City of Richmond bureaucrats.

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In fact, after reviewing its short-term rental policies, the city will keep “boarding and lodging” on the bylaw books, as a “secondary use” for a residential home.

Boarding and lodging (once typically reserved for needs such as homestay students and sport-hosting programs) allows for up to two guests in a home and does not specify the length of stay. 

Therefore, a townhouse/condo resident may rent out one or two bedrooms for up to two people, so long as their strata allows it and they are the principal resident. Any online listing that shows a condo or townhouse with capacity beyond two guests would be illegal, explained city spokesperson Ted Townsend.

Technically, a one-bedroom condo owner or renter could rent out their bed when they are on holiday or if they contend they sleep on the couch (or the opposite).

The big difference in terms of limiting short-term rentals, said Townsend, will come with more robust enforcement, steeper fines and more clarity regarding bed and breakfasts, which allow only up to three rooms to be rented to up to six guests.

On Monday, councillors further explored new policies on short-term rentals. They decided to consider more options for multi-family (strata) units at a later date, via public consultation, said Townsend.

They also plan to nix the idea (at staff's recommendation) that the rental operator be the owner of the home, something Coun Harold Steves said is a mistake.

The city will restrict the number of licensed bed and breakfasts by imposing a 500 metre buffer between them. 

The most egregious cases are considered to be entire homes being rented out, acting like a hotel. Any listing that offers more than two guests can theoretically be cross-referenced by inspectors with city-issued bed and breakfast licences. However, listings do not show addresses, so city staff would have to book a room to gain access to the site information.

Moreover, people who rent to “boarders and lodgers” will not require a licence, nor insurance, per staff recommendations. 

Realtor Lyn Terborg is a critic of the “watered down” proposals and said a number of loopholes remain. 

An operator could also skirt the bylaws by posting different photos in separate listings. Townsend said the city will deal with cheaters based on complaints and more proactive inspections (the city is adding four new inspectors to the short-term rental file).

Council votes on the new policies Monday at city hall at 7 p.m.

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