Housing · New Westminster

Renovictions and Airbnb in New Westminster

A couple of days ago the Queens Park Residents’ Association put out this plea for assistance on Facebook:

At the AGM yesterday a couple of residents from Maple Manor Apartments (304 3rd Ave.) were invited to share their story. The apartment has new owners who have received a renovation permit and those still there will be renovicted at the end of the month. There are very few rental options in Queen’s Park and a lack of affordable rental housing in NewWest. They are stable long-term renters (5 years, 21 years and 27 years). They have incomes, but that have not increased at the same rate as the escalating market rental fees. They love living in New West and have jobs and friends near-by, but are really looking for ANY option that is affordable in the $800 – $1,000 range.

This is a too-common situation in New Westminster, and the City is working on steps to address renovictions.

But, and there’s a really big but here, rental stock in New Westminster isn’t as high as it could be, and increasing the rental stock does not involve building new buildings. It involves cracking down on people putting suites, houses, and apartments on Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms in New Westminster.

A fraction of the Queens Park Airbnb listings.

Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms are legal in New Westminster. Let’s make that abundantly clear. They are classified as a Home Based Business and an owner can apply for a business license. There are restrictions on what you can rent out for example, (it has to be an accessory use to the residential use, which means you can’t rent out an entire house on a Home Based Business License, you’d need to have proper zoning and permits to run what’s classified as a hotel). But if you look in the Open Data Catalogue you’ll find that there are currently four bed & breakfast permits issued for 2017, and none of the addresses listed are in the Queens Park neighbourhood.

So, that means that the overwhelming majority of listings on Airbnb in New Westminster are operating illegally. A number of them are for single rooms or people renting out their houses when they’re on vacation. Fine, let’s not look at those for now, because those aren’t units that would be suitable for long-term rentals.

But there are some listings that are for a separate suite in a house, or for the entire house, or for multiple units in the house, and these listings have months of available times for booking. These are listings that could very easily be long-term rentals for these people being renovicted.

227 Third Street has four Airbnb listings.

Let’s look at one example. This listing, this listing, this listing, and this listing are all rooms and suites within the same house at 227 Third Street. Right there are six rooms that could be rented out long-term, providing housing for a couple of families, that are instead being rented out to tourists.

Or this listing for a one-bedroom basement suite. Or this listing for a recently-renovated one-bedroom suite on First Street.

Of course, there are other basement suites up on Airbnb in other neighbourhoods, like this two-bedroom suite in Massey Victory Heights that would be perfect for a family.

Please note that the owners of these properties may well have all of the permits necessary and I may have missed their business licenses in the dataset. But even if they are legal, they are still potentially taking away from rental stock.

Is rental stock being eaten up by short-term rentals in New Westminster? It’s hard to look at these examples and say no. These Airbnb listings are the perfect type of suites that could be rented out to long-term renters, yet are being turned into bed and breakfast rooms for short-term visitors. I haven’t even touched apartments or condos in this cursory search. A number of stratas do not allow short-term rentals, but others don’t, and strata fines may be seen as a cost of doing business for someone putting up their unit on Airbnb.

And with the recent passing of the OCP to allow more laneway houses, will we see those go up on Airbnb or will they be long-term rentals? Financially it probably makes more sense to put them on Airbnb, but at what cost to our communities?

To answer the Queens Park Residents’ Association’s plea, I’d say go knock on the doors of your neighbours with listings on Airbnb and ask them why they’re not willing to rent out to a fellow Queens Park resident in need of housing.

Further reading: Short-term consequences: Investigating the extent, nature and rental housing implications of Airbnb listings in Vancouver, Karen Sawatzky.

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