Little adoption of new “imperfect” Airbnb rules

The city’s license and permit officer says he’s not surprised that only 22 applications have been received, given the pandemic and the newness of the program.

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Only a handful of short-term rental property owners in Saskatoon complied with the new “flawed” regulations for the popular odd-job economy in the four months after their introduction.

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Saskatoon City Hall received 22 business license applications from people using services like Airbnb and VRBO to rent their properties for periods of less than 30 days.

This total includes 11 of landlords who require discretionary use approval, a $ 2,500 process required for dedicated rental properties in most residential neighborhoods.

The other 11 came from owners who rented all or part of their main residence; they require a commercial license of $ 125, but not the more expensive discretionary use approval. It’s unclear how many short-term rentals are operating in the city, but that’s less than 4% of the 610 Airbnbs known as of fall 2019.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mark Wilson, the city’s licensing and permitting officer, said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the numbers, given the newness of the program and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It takes time to come into compliance with any new licensing program,” Wilson said.

“We knew we wanted to take some time to get the word out and educate the hosts, and make people understand the rules and why they’re in place… It’s part of bringing a new program online. “

City council passed the bylaw in a public hearing on Aug.31, nearly five years after first considering how to regulate online businesses. At the time, Mayor Charlie Clark admitted that the rules were not ideal.

“I think it’s better to put something in place than to do nothing,” he said.

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An Airbnb official later echoed Clark’s assessment. Members of the public were more critical and paid particular attention to the discretionary use requirement, calling it “onerous” and “cost prohibitive”.

Wilson said it’s not clear how many landlords still have to apply, as regulations exempt those who rent more than 30 days or less than two people in a primary residence.

The pandemic is also likely to have caused the number of short-term rentals captured by regulation to fluctuate, he added, noting that the city is partly relying on businesses to notify members of regulatory changes.

“It’s a challenge during a pandemic in terms of absorption. We know that (things) are very dynamic in this industry… and that not everyone will operate at the same capacity, if at all, during the pandemic. “

Asked whether the ‘education first’ approach to city law enforcement might cause homeowners to simply flout the rules until someone files a complaint, Wilson suggested. that other licensing regimes are highly compliant.

“Most of the people we deal with want to comply,” he said.

“Airbnb continues to educate our local hosts on the new regulations,” said Nathan Rotman, Airbnb’s deputy director of policy for Canada, in a statement, adding that the company hopes to “work with the city of Saskatoon to simplify current processes “.

VRBO did not respond to a request for comment.

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