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Ruling to evict family from long-term Airbnb stay props up 'legal gray area' in Toronto's housing market, critics say

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The eviction of a family from their long-term stay at a Toronto Airbnb has set a legal precedent that leaves tens of thousands of properties in the city "effectively exempt from regulatory oversight," critics say.

The decision, made Thursday by Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) in response to an application made by a Toronto property owner and Airbnb host, resulted in the eviction of a Swiss family who'd been living in the home since last summer.

Tenant Tianning Ning and her family's living arrangement was found to be exempt under Ontario's Residential Tenant Act. Her landlord acted within their rights when they ended the tenancy agreement early and were not required to give Ning six weeks' notice of eviction.

In June 2022, Ning, who spoke to CTV News Toronto last week on the possible eviction, reserved the property through the Airbnb platform for Aug. 23, 2022, to June 30, 2023, a total of 311 days, LTB documents state.

Ning said she and her family live in Switzerland but are in Toronto while her husband, Antoine Kernen, is doing a sabbatical at York University for nearly a year.

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

The house Tianning Ning and her family rented in Toronto.

But, Ning said she was asked to leave in January and refused, filing an appeal with the LTB arguing tenancy protections apply in cases like hers.

"It was extremely stressful," Ning said. "I can't believe this would happen here."

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, they told CTV News Toronto last week.

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.

The issue, the pair 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 gets 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.

Porter said that sorting it out through Airbnb's customer service centre was very difficult. The pair didn't accept any money after the listing was terminated, worried that taking payment would legally start a tenancy when they were trying to move back into their home.

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

An eviction takes place outside of a midtown Toronto house Tianning Ning and her family rented.

On Thursday, the LTB ruled in favour of Porter and Gardener, ordering the eviction of Ning and her family.

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenant Association, said the decision creates a "legal gray area that effectively exempts more than 16,000 properties currently listed on Airbnb from regulatory oversight" in a statement issued shortly after the decision.

"These properties are not considered short-term rentals by the City of Toronto as they are offered for 28 days or more, but they can also evade the RTA, as the ruling suggests."

Last week, NDP MPP Jessica Bell spoke on the issue at Porter's property ahead of the expected hearing, calling on the provincial government to crack down on landlords taking advantage of the lack of clarity between the rights of a tenant and a traveller.

"I want Ning to get justice for her family and for the thousands of renters who are struggling to find and keep a home in our hostile housing market," Bell said. 

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