City of Ottawa envisions digital ‘oversight’ of short-term rental platforms

The City of Ottawa is looking for a digital platform to eliminate short-term rental platforms, which would help crack down on people who might flout a new bylaw.

The regulation approved in spring 2021 requires permits for listing short-term rentals on websites such as Airbnb, and hosts can only list their primary residences or country lodges with a maximum of 10 guests.

The city began phasing in the new rules in June, although zoning elements of the new rules are on appeal.

The city has issued a call for tenders for a “web monitoring solution” that will remove data from websites like Airbnb, Vrbo, Expedia, TripAdvisor, FlipKey and misterb & b – and create a dashboard that authorities can use.

The information collected would include the host’s license number, registration availability, a screenshot, and the advertised rate among other publicly available data on the site.

David Wachsmuth, professor of urban planning at McGill University, says cities have sought to compile their own data to fill gaps in information-sharing agreements with short-term rental platforms. (CBC News)

Short-term rental enforcement challenges

Planning professor David Wachsmuth, who has studied the impact of short-term rentals on housing, says cities are finding they need these strategies to have enough information to enforce regulations.

“Let’s say there isn’t the greatest history of short-term rental platforms, including Airbnb, cooperating with these kinds of requests,” said Wachsmuth, who teaches at McGill University in Montreal.

“There is really no substitute for visiting the websites of these platforms themselves and collecting the information that is publicly available on them. “

Wachsmuth said short-term rental platforms have developed into a regulatory gray area, meaning enforcement of complaints lags behind more stringent regulations.

Several US cities, including Los Angeles and Boston, have used digital surveillance at these sites, while Toronto closed its tender earlier this year for a similar contract to enforce its settlement.

In a statement, Airbnb said it will comply with City of Ottawa regulations and looks forward to providing the city with more transparency about its hosts through its municipal portal.

The City of Ottawa By-Laws Department will also hire six new officers to enforce the new short-term rental rules. (Kate Porter / CBC)

Sorting in the haystack

The City of Ottawa’s call for tenders also suggests some interesting features such as predictive modeling of potential fraud, cluster analysis to identify “different behaviors” and hot spot detection.

Wachsmuth said these strategies will help the city send enforcement action to where it is most needed by obtaining information on potential bogus reviews or on the number of days of the year a “primary residence” can be. reserved.

“In Ottawa, like in just about every other city, a very large amount of listings that you can search for… aren’t really active… which means you can end up with a needle in a boot problem. hay, “he said.

“You really like being able to focus on those who are responsible for the most bookings and also on those in particular who might be breaking the rules.”

Wachsmuth said privacy considerations should be minimal since data is collected from public websites. He said that the privacy and anonymity offered by these platforms is one of the obstacles to the app.

The city’s request for proposals calls for the development of privacy protection and states that all data collected will be owned by the city and will be stored in Canada.

The lawyer representing the Ottawa Short-Term Rental Association, which challenges the bylaw, said no one was available for comment.

In a statement, the city said the call will not affect the request for proposals and that this technology will be part of a range of enforcement mechanisms and strategies.

Comments are closed.