Is a NYC-style Airbnb crackdown coming to Toronto?

Over a month ago, New York City’s new Airbnb and short-term rental rules came into effect — a move that is likely to dramatically decrease the more than 40,000 such units available and, in so doing, massively increase the rental stock in a city grappling with housing affordability. 

It’s a situation that is playing out in many major cities including Toronto, where there are some 12,000 units available on Airbnb. Is it time this city cracks down as well? With sky-high rental prices, a shortage of units and a pledge by the new mayor to make affordable housing a priority, the answer is yes.

Kris Bhoutika lives in a downtown condo that is swarming with Airbnb short-term renters. Any time there’s a major event going on downtown, he expects trouble inside his highrise tower that he’s called home since 2018. 

“It can get quite crazy,” he said. 

The building, located at 21 Iceboat Terr., is part of the Parade Towers, a CityPlace condo complex that has a whopping 280 registered Airbnb rentals across four towers, according to non-profit organization Fairbnb Canada Network’s recent analysis of City of Toronto data. 

“That adds an influx of people that makes our life miserable,” said Bhoutika. 

That’s also the most Airbnbs in any single condo project in the city, though some other buildings — which Fairbnb has dubbed “ghost hotels” — aren’t far off. In the past, the city has tightened regulations to address the proliferation of such short-term rentals, which it defines as “all or part of a dwelling unit rented out for less than 28 consecutive days in exchange for payment.” 

For example, municipal rules put in place in 2020 limit short-term rentals, which must be licensed through the city to principal residences where the host resides and a maximum of 180 days per year. In practice, however, a significant number of Airbnb hosts are surely flouting the rules by claiming secondary investment units as principal residences. 

“The concentration of short-term rentals in these [downtown] buildings poses the question of whether these actually are principal residences or not,” said Thorben Wieditz, executive director of the Fairbnb Network Canada, which pushes for short-term rental regulations and oversight. 

The trend is troubling because, as the argument goes, it takes desperately needed apartments off the market for locals and drives up the cost of long-term rentals by reducing housing stock. 

“These units are not available to long-term tenants or people who look for long-term housing, and that very much has an impact amidst the housing crisis, when everyone knows how difficult it is to access housing,” said Wieditz, who is one of the advocates calling on the city to take a tougher stance on enforcement.

More than one CityPlace resident recently shared horror stories with Post City about short-term rentals that appear to be operating illegally. 

“I feel like I live in a hotel,” said Sam Arfeem, who owns a condo at 151 Dan Leckie Way, which is connected to 21 Iceboat Terr. “It’s chaos.”

Arfeem said he’s fortunate to live on the third floor. Otherwise, he’d have trouble with the elevators, which are often congested — as is the lobby — with out-of-town visitors. 

“They’re harassing security at all times of the day trying to figure out things about their short-term rental,” he said.  

Worse yet, the amenity spaces aren’t respected. Visitors will break the rules, such as bringing glass to the pool area and crowd spaces meant for residents. Bhoutika is among those who say that the city needs to crack down more on rogue Airbnb hosts. 

“I think the city should enforce it in a big way,” he said, referring to the principal residence rule in particular. He explained that there are three Airbnb suites on his floor alone, and he’s never seen the owners. 

Wieditz of Fairbnb agreed the city has to do more to verify the principal residence status of proposed short-term rentals. “There needs to be a way to double-check that,” he said. 

And maybe that is changing. 

A statement from the City of Toronto, Municipal Licensing & Standards explained that it has revoked licenses for 846 short-term rentals over the last three years. According to the statement, nine bylaw enforcement officers investigate short-term rental complaints, which can be made through 311 Toronto, and four staff members are assigned to audit registered units. 

“This is a new type of enforcement for the city, and staff are always learning, adjusting the approach and working through any challenges that come with introducing new regulations,” the statement reads. 

Hopefully this trend continues and the city benefits from an increased housing stock and lower rents for residents.