Airbnb ‘hackers’ are hijacking real permits to post bad listings – and some Torontonians are fed up

Airbnb Toronto host Allan Eisen says he is at wits end with the city of Toronto after his Airbnb listing was taken down 16 times in the past seven months.

At least one of those cases is because someone used their permit number, accessible on the city’s website, to post an unregistered ad.

When his ad was taken offline last month, Eisen says he was told it was because he was being investigated for breaking the 180-day rule, which prohibits booking short term rentals for over 180 nights per year. But Eisen says he makes sure his Airbnb stays within the limit.

“What I heard from [the bylaw officer] was absolutely stunning. I was shocked when he told me someone else was using my license number,” he said.

When asked if that could push his registration above the 180 mark, Eisen says the bylaws officer told him, “Yeah, it could.”

Allan Eisen rents out his primary residence in downtown Toronto when he is away from the city. He says the city has removed the Airbnb listing 16 times in the past five months. (Submitted by Allan Eisen)

The 6,248 short-term operator registration numbers and the first three digits of the corresponding postal code are publicly available on the City of Toronto’s website. The city says it is aware of instances in which people are accessing the numbers and using them to post unregistered listings on Airbnb, resulting in the removal of some legitimate listings as the city tries to enforce compliance.

The director of, which describes itself as a non-profit organization that works to protect the interests of Airbnb’s registered operators in Toronto, said a city staff member told him they were suing “hackers” and used a “whack-a-mole” approach to remove unregistered listings.

“It’s a very big concern,” said George Emerson.

Meanwhile, some hosts are still having issues that CBC Toronto first reported in summer; when hosts and guests scrambled after bookings were abruptly canceled and listings removed due to minor discrepancies in how hosts’ addresses were listed on their city record versus their Airbnb profile. Hosts say reservations are no longer cancelled, but their listings are still removed.

In Toronto, a short-term rental operator can only rent their primary residence and must register with the city.

City says rules protect Toronto rental stock

Eisen’s list was last taken down last week. An email from the city claims his address is not an exact match, but Eisen is adamant it is correct. He says every time his listing has been removed, he makes the changes required by the city, but then it happens again.

“In the meantime, you’re bankrupt,” Eisen said. “There shouldn’t be such an aggressive approach to just coverage” let’s just delete all those listings. “”

Executive director of the city’s municipal licensing and standards division, Carleton Grant, said host information must be accurate so the city can verify listings.

Carleton Grant, the city's executive director of municipal licensing and standards, says cases involving people using real permit numbers to post fake or unregistered listings are complex.
Carleton Grant, the city’s executive director of municipal licensing and standards, says cases involving people using real permit numbers to post fake or unregistered listings are complex. (Yan Theoret/CBC)

“The rules are in place to protect the housing stock and the rental stock, but allow people to participate in home sharing,” Grant said in an interview.

In a statement, Airbnb’s Canadian regional manager Nathan Rotman said the company understands some hosts are frustrated with the city’s law enforcement practices.

“We continue to be in active discussions with the city to ensure that saved listings are not inadvertently deleted by City of Toronto bylaw officers,” Rotman said.

‘Bad actors’ fear bending the rules

Eisen says he is alarmed that anyone can access his permit number on the city’s website and says they should be removed.

“It’s not a hack. The city is openly giving this information to people by just putting it on a website. It’s very shocking,” he said.

While an operator’s registration number, city district and the first three letters of postcodes associated with properties are available; full addresses are not visible.

Grant says the information on the city’s open data portal is required by the city. It shows the government is transparent and allows the city and others to ensure the listings are legitimate, he says.

An example of the message hosts receive when the city removes an Airbnb listing.
An example of the message hosts receive when the city removes an Airbnb listing. (Submitted by Emil Glassbourg)

But Emerson says it’s worrying that unauthorized people are bending the rules by using someone else’s permit.

“If the city is trying to crack down on bad actors, why are they allowing the same bad actors?” he said

“We are small and small businesses and we have been vetted and verified by the city, so we rely on the city to be able to list these properties.”

As part of the city’s ongoing compliance audits, 2,626 Airbnb listings were taken down on November 10; 65% of them were removed due to missing or inaccurate information or wording that did not match; 32% for breaking the 180-day rule and the remaining 3% for expiring permits, according to the city.

Grant says hundreds of ads are posted daily by people who are not registered with the city, and the city is working with short-term rental companies to remove these operators and their ads. He says it’s hard to say exactly how many registered operator listings have been taken down because people used their license numbers.

Indeed, according to him, many hosts whose listings were removed had incorrect information on their listings in addition to the fact that their license was being used by someone else.

“These [cases] are complicated, they are complex,” he said. “We need to take the necessary steps to understand what happened and then take the appropriate action.

When asked if the city would consider removing permit numbers from the public website, Grant said that since only a small percentage of hosts are affected, the numbers should justify the change.

He says the city will continue to look for ways to prevent unlicensed people from posting ads using other hosts’ permits.

‘Beyond exaggeration,’ says lawyer

Emerson says it’s absurd that the city could shut down a listing because of something as simple as the word “street” and the short form “st” being deemed mismatched.

“It’s beyond exaggeration,” he said.

Grant says that while the details may seem minor, they are necessary to verify if a recording is legitimate.

“We equate it to getting on a plane and you show your ticket and your passport and they have to match,” he said.

Only about 15%, or more than 400, of the ads removed last month are back online, while the rest, like Emil Glassbourg’s, are still under investigation.

Emil Glassbourg says his Airbnb listing was taken down last month and he is still waiting for it to be active again.
Emil Glassbourg says his Airbnb listing was taken down last month and he is still waiting for it to be active again. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

He discovered that his ad had been taken offline because his zip code was off by one digit and his property was listed in the wrong category.

“I’m in a difficult financial situation, which could have been easily resolved,” said Glassbourg, who says his only current source of income is his Airbnb listing.

He is now awaiting an inspection on December 28 and says he hopes his listing will be available again, but knows that is not guaranteed.

“Now I’m bankrupt with no income,” he said.

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