Toronto lays 16 charges after short-term rental rules were allegedly broken
TORONTO -- The City of Toronto has laid 16 charges against people who they say haven’t been following the city’s short-term rental rules, as critics say the data sharing agreement between the city and its largest short-term rental platform makes enforcement much more difficult.
The contract is an improvement over cities like Vancouver, where city officials don’t have the power to take problem listings down, observers say, but one major gap remains: that there is no obligation on the part of platforms like Airbnb to make sure a listing is following the rules before it goes live.
“We have to go off and investigate, as opposed to them proactively not allowing people on the platform to start with,” said Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.
“If we have to do it and comb through the thousands of listings, we don’t have the resources nor is it sustainable or realistic."
But a statement from Nathan Rotman, Airbnb Canada's senior policy manager, said the company had gone above and beyond its obligations in the agreement.
“Airbnb has exceeded the agreed terms with the city of Toronto, building customized tools via Airbnb’s City Portal to help the city enforce its own law. The regulations have worked as intended, with the exception that Airbnb remains the only licensed short-term rental platform in Toronto, as other platforms continue to operate without rules or taxation,” Rotman said.
CTV News obtained the data-sharing agreement through a freedom of information request. It was signed in December 2020 between the City of Toronto and Airbnb Ireland UC shortly before the short-term rental rules took effect. Those state that suites can be rented for less than 28 days if they are primary residences, and only if the operators have a licence from the city.
Vancouver housing activist Rohana Rezel — who obtained the city of Vancouver’s contract with Airbnb previously — said the Toronto contract is “tighter” as it allows the city to know much more about any given listing, including how long it has been rented.
But the company doesn’t have to prove a suite is licensed before its listing goes live, which is one reason why obviously fake license numbers like “1234-ABCDEF” have slipped through.
“As with Vancouver the agreement in Toronto puts the onus on the city to monitor the platform and figure out which listings are not compliant,” Rezel said.
Still, the greater data provides more opportunities for regulation that is being followed in some European cities, Rezel said, such as a “night cap” where if a city pushed for a rule limiting rentals to a certain number of nights, the city could automate requests to make listings inactive after a certain threshold.
The data sharing agreement allows the city of Toronto to audit “any aspect of the STR company’s operations” to verify the accuracy of records, its compliance with the law, and its compliance with the agreement.
The first four charges were laid against a Brampton man named Ameel Agha, who the city accuses of advertising and operating two suites as short-term rentals in a Yorkville tower, without a licence, in January.
Agha’s family claimed the units have been rented as apartments for months. Agha told CTV News he is not interested in discussing the charges, saying, “There is no ‘my side of the story."
The fifth charge involved a home in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. The owner told CTV News she had been dealing with the city over the issue last summer and thought it had been put to rest. She said she would attempt to resolve it with the city when she returns to Toronto.
The other charges were laid while CTV News Toronto was requesting information on the first five.