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European family turfed from long-term Airbnb in Toronto to test renters’ rights

A European family who says they were evicted from their long-term Airbnb rental in Toronto last week has sparked a precedent-setting fight about landlords who treat long-term renters like hotel guests.

The issue is particularly urgent after new city rules requiring licenses for short-term stays pushed thousands of units on online platforms to list in the long-term, often substituting service agreements for leases, and leaving tenants unsure of what their standing really is, said NDP MPP Jessica Bell.

An image of Tianning Ning outside of the Airbnb. (Courtesy of Tianning Ning)“We want better protections for renters,” Bell said, saying long-term stays should require signed leases by default instead of being reviewed individually by the Landlord and Tenant Board, and calling for the provincial government to crack down on landlords taking advantage of the lack of clarity between the rights of a tenant and a traveller.

Bell was speaking outside a midtown Toronto house that was for a time home to Tianning Ning and her family. They live in Switzerland but are in Toronto while her husband Antoine Kernen does a sabbatical at York University for nearly a year.

Ning said they couldn’t find a furnished unit in the right area in the regular rental market, so decided to rent the unit on Airbnb for $5,150 a month last summer.

But she said she was asked to leave in January, refused, and both landlord and renter filed appeals at the Landlord Tenant Board in what could be a precedent-setting decision about whether tenancy protections apply in cases like hers.

Ning has rallied neighbours to her cause and alleged she was evicted last weekend, even as the Landlord and Tenant Board was still dealing with the dispute.

“It was extremely stressful. I cannot believe this could happen here,” Ning said in an interview.

The house was the personal residence of the landlords, Suzanne Porter and Sarah Gardener, who had left their home vacant to care for an 80-year-old mother with lung cancer, and decided to list their home in the meantime.

The care took its toll, and after the mother died, the pair said they received medical advice to go home to deal with their stress. They used the Airbnb platform to request that the rental term end early in January. They said it came back as approved — even though they eventually learned that wasn’t true.

The house Tianning Ning and her family rented in Toronto.“We were told the checkout day had been accepted — but they hadn’t actually accepted — they just hadn’t responded,” Porter recalled, saying she wished she had dealt with it in person.

The issue, she said, was that Airbnb’s platform gives the renter 24 hours to respond to a termination request, and if the renter does not, it is registered as accepted and the rental is cancelled.

Airbnb confirmed the reservation at the home ended on Jan. 31, 2023. A company spokesperson said they offered “support” and a coupon for one month’s stay at another location, which Ning declined.

The pair said the end of the rental opened the listing’s calendar to its default settings of higher prices, giving the false impression they were trying to list it for a profit.

Trying to sort it out through Airbnb’s customer service centre was very difficult, Porter said. The pair didn’t accept any money after the listing terminated, worried that taking payment would clearly start a tenancy in law when they were trying to move home.

“With Airbnb, we followed everything they told us to do. That got us into a lot of hot water,” she said.

In May, the LTB heard arguments about whether the long-term listing amounted to a tenancy. A ruling is expected in early June.

Porter said they were alerted over the weekend that the home’s doors were open with mess on the ground. Thinking that the end date for the original listing was approaching, they said they honestly believed the home was empty and moved to secure it.

An eviction takes place outside of a midtown Toronto house Tianning Ning and her family rented.Ning said the family had left the windows open in the heat and were shocked to return home to find the locks had been changed.

Videos provided by the neighbours show movers taking out items in garbage bags. Ning is seen in the video rushing across the street from a neighbour’s house to lay claim to her items.

“I jumped out from the house and I said, ‘It’s not right, this is our stuff. You don’t have the right to move it anywhere,” she said.

The movers relinquished the items and Ning’s family is now staying temporarily nearby.

It’s not clear what Ning’s family being outside the home will mean for the LTB decision, which activists viewed as a test case on whether long-term rentals on short-term platforms would be tenancies by default.

“That outcome may set a new standard, and we may actually see some changes down the road,” said Thorben Wieditz of Fairbnb Canada.

“These platforms have to be held accountable for what they actually allow people to do in places like Toronto. We need to make sure that any residency that lasts longer than 28 days is accompanied by a standard lease agreement to protect the tenants,” he said.

A housing ministry spokesperson said the Residential Tenancies Act generally excludes travellers who use hotels — but in longer-term stays whether that exemption applies is determined on a case by case basis.

“If an occupant secures a long term tenancy through AirBnb, the RTA may apply. This would be determined by the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) depending on the nature of the specific situation. To preserve the independence of the LTB, government officials are not permitted to interfere in, or comment on, tribunal processes or decisions,” the spokesperson said.

Porter said they are devastated about how the dispute has affected their relationships in the neighbourhood and say they would never list the home on a platform again.

“It’s a cautionary tale for Airbnb hosts and guests for what’s out there and how broken the system is,” she said. Top Stories

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