The city of Richmond has strict rules about short-term rentals in the city and a limited number of licensed ones, but that doesn’t stop it from being the epicentre of a “thriving” Airbnb market.
Vancouver housing advocate and IT consultant Rohana Rezel has identified a total of 974 units in Richmond listed on Airbnb and many are run by the same operator, including some who live abroad.
Among the listings, 433 are entire homes or apartments and 721 belong to operators with two or more listings, according to Rezel, who created a list of the hosts offering multiple units with links to their profile and listings.
“I’m not surprised (with the stats). My experience with Vancouver Airbnb listings tells me that it’s mostly commercial operators on Airbnb,” said Rezel.
“Airbnb wants you to believe that it is an empty or spare bedroom they are renting out, but in reality, it’s the commercial operator who runs many listings, in Richmond especially.”
One operator has 26 listings in Richmond
According to the list, there are at least five Airbnb hosts with 10 or more listings in Richmond and 17 operators running three to nine listings each, and many others have two listings.
Among them is an Airbnb user called Pisces, who joined the platform in 2014 and has 26 listings – mostly entire apartments – in Richmond at a rate from $168 to $688 per night. He also has seven listings in Vancouver and Burnaby.
Another host called Yuefei has 18 units in Richmond charging from $89 to $320 per night, and a host named Liang listed 17 Richmond units, from $97 to $217 per night.
“Some of the operators don’t even live in Richmond, but live in China and list their units in Chinese instead of English,” said Rezel.
He pointed out a host called Aimi who claims to reside in China and works for a company called “Remote Home Property Management.” She has 16 room listings in Richmond and three in China.
All the descriptions of Aimi's listings are in Chinese, with specific notification that those Richmond properties have “Chinese-speaking landlord.”
Rezel, who has collected his own independent Airbnb stats for Vancouver and some other municipalities in Metro Vancouver, said the scale of short-term rentals in Richmond on Airbnb is "the second worst per capita after Vancouver city."
“The city of Richmond should know about it and do something about it. If they ever need my help gathering the data, I’m happy to help,” said Rezel.
Rezel is concerned increasing unregulated short-rental listings pose a threat to the local rental stock.
"Housing that could have provided shelter for the family is being used as short-term hotels,” he said.
“And it has a really negative impact on the neighbourhood. You have people having parties, committing crimes, and Airbnb brings all of this.”
City: There are challenges in addressing this issue
Ted Townsend, spokesperson for the City of Richmond, said city staff regularly review the listings on various platforms including Airbnb, to look for the illegal ones, and have inspectors to review the Chinese-language listings.
“It’s a constantly changing landscape and, like many black market activities, as long as there is demand, there will be supply. But we feel we’ve made progress in reducing that supply and we will continue to be proactive in our enforcement,” said Townsend.
“There are challenges in addressing this issue but...We’ve seen a great number of illegal operations that have shut down voluntarily or due to enforcement action."
Townsend added that not all Airbnb listings are illegal – some may be licensed bed and breakfasts (there are 67 licensed B&Bs in Richmond) or be permitted under the boarding and lodging provisions.
"It's also important to note that just placing a listing is not in itself a contravention of regulations," he said.
“We need evidence that an actual rental has taken place that contravenes our regulations in order to issue tickets or take other action."