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Surge in illegal Airbnbs frustrates Richmond resident

City of Richmond bylaw complaints related to short-term rentals increased by almost 500 per cent in 2023.
Apartment buildings in Richmond city centre.

A resident is feeling unheard by the city after spending more than two years monitoring illegal short-term rentals in Richmond.

"Even after I figured out the exact location by doing some research, it seems like the city hasn't done anything to follow up as the listings are still active as of today," said Amy Liu, who began reporting unlicensed Airbnb listings to the City of Richmond in 2022.

Liu told the Richmond News 80 per cent of the listings she reported to the city have remained active.

"To be honest, I am disappointed at the City of Richmond for the slow progress (or the lack of) progress," she said, adding she noticed some hosts have been running unlicensed short-term rentals for "many, many years."

One issue that stood out to Liu was the "large number" of apartments listed for short-term rentals, which has "increased significantly" over the years.

"Some of the listings are owned by the same host with different locations in Richmond. I have seen a few hosts owning more than 10 apartment Airbnb listings," she said.

"I suspect what happened might be, those hosts probably claimed to be long-term tenants, but as soon as they get access to the places, they use the places to run unlicensed Airbnb."

Last year, the News spoke with a landlord whose tenant's unlicensed short-term rental came to light after neighbours complained about strangers trying to open their doors.

Liu said she is concerned people might find running short-term rentals more lucrative, hence reducing the supply of long-term rental apartments.

"As a result, the real long-term renter would have difficulties finding a place and they would end up paying higher rent," said Liu.

"It makes me feel very frustrated."

Almost 500% increase in short-term rental complaints

Liu thinks heavier fines and penalizing stratas and short-term rental platforms are some solutions for addressing the rampant situation.

According to statistics from the City of Richmond, 416 calls related to alleged short-term rental violations were received in 2023.

The data shows a 486-per-cent increase compared to the volume of calls received during the same period in 2022, which added up to 84 calls.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 65 calls during the same time frame in 2020, 174 in 2019 and 273 in 2018.

City spokesperson Clay Adams told the News Richmond currently has 205 licensed short-term rentals including both boarding and lodging and bed and breakfast businesses.

However, a search on Airbnb for one-week rentals in Richmond yielded more than 900 results. This is consistent with a McGill University report published last year, which found 920 active short-term rental listings in June 2023 while there were only 159 business licences issued for such purposes.

City of Richmond data shows 575 tickets were issued for short-term rental violations in 2023, which made up almost 65 per cent of all community bylaw offences.

The increase in violation tickets came after the city hired two temporary bylaw officers in 2023 to look into short-term rental files.

However, Adams cautioned against misinterpreting the number of violation tickets.

"It is not unusual for an illegal rental operator to receive multiple violation notices upon inspection, so this does not mean there were 564 individual non-compliant (short-term rentals)," he explained.

When the Richmond News inquired about the investigations for several Airbnb listings Liu sent to bylaw officers, the city did not provide the requested details.

However, Adams said the timeline for investigations depends on individual complaints and the increased staffing has "resulted in greater enforcement."

Bylaws staff also monitor non-compliant properties and conduct follow-up inspections to ensure compliance.

"The investigation process often involves searching across various booking platforms, as properties are often multi-listed and not always easy to identify," he explained. 

"For example, apartments are more challenging than single-family homes because their features and photos are more generic."

He added the implementation of B.C.'s Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act in May will "significantly improve the ability of municipalities to identify non-compliant (short-term rentals) and establish a registry."

Starting May 1, short-term rental hosts in Richmond and other areas where they're required by the local government to have a business licence will have to display a valid business licence number on their listing.

Other measures include increasing municipal ticketing fines from $1,000 to $3,000 per infraction per day and requiring short-term rental platforms to remove unlicensed listings at the request of local governments. 

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