‘Risk of danger to residents’ prompts some Toronto condos to ban Airbnbs amid COVID-19 crisis

After years of struggling or failing to keep their buildings from being used as de facto hotels for short-term rental operators, some Toronto condos are finally banning Airbnb due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

The move comes at a time when most people are isolating at home to prevent the spread of the virus while Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms face an unprecedented number of booking cancellations in the world. global travel bans.

ICE condos at York St. and Lake Shore Blvd. W. and Maple Leaf Square condos on Bremner Blvd. informed residents that short-term stays are prohibited as of Thursday.

ICE condo management said it would not interfere with anyone currently occupying the building. But all pending reservations of less than 28 days were to be canceled and devices used to gain access to the building by unauthorized residents would be disabled.

Short-term rentals “pose an undue risk of harm to residents and to short-term tenants themselves,” a notice in Maple Leaf Square reads.

The move is overdue but welcome, said Thorben Wieditz of Fairbnb, a coalition of academics, community groups and tenants who supported the city’s short-term rental regulations in provincial court last fall. .

There are apartment buildings residents around town who are ‘rioting’ because condo boards and property managers are suggesting stopping short-term rentals but not enforcing it,” he said. he declares.

Wieditz said locals tell him, “There are laws on the books, there is a global pandemic, you need to cease operations immediately.”

On Tuesday, Fairbnb delivered a draft statement to the property manager and the ICE Buildings Board threatening a $3 million class action lawsuit because the building failed to comply with city zoning bylaws that prohibit rentals at short term in homes that are not the owner’s primary residence.

“To us, it seems entirely reasonable to take this step to inform condominium companies and their management companies that there are laws in place and that they must, at a minimum, recognize that in their communications with all people in the building — to say they’re illegal and they’ll take whatever steps are necessary to make sure they don’t work,” Wieditz said.

The claim has not been filed in court due to COVID-19 closures and it is unclear whether the legal action will proceed given that ICE has banned short-term rentals, the official said. Fairbnb lawyer, Eric Gillespie.

“ICE was the only condominium named (in the lawsuit), but there are dozens of condominium corporations that could be in a similar situation. If the response from other condos is similar, that’s obviously a huge step in the right direction, but that’s an unknown at this time. We don’t know if the claim will go forward with other condominium associations,” he said.

There is a public health risk in tourist accommodation, said Roger Keil, a professor of environmental studies at York University who co-edited a book on the SARS outbreak called “Networked Disease”.

In 2003, Hong Kong’s Metropole Hotel was the site of a “super spread” event that sent SARS to points around the world by travellers.

“Hotels are regulated spaces and they are cleaned by professional staff and they are under strict control in terms of public health. We know that’s not necessarily the case in the (short-term rental) industry,” he said.

“If you now have thousands of people staying in fairly unregulated spaces shared with regular residents, I don’t see how that can’t be a public health concern right now,” Keil said.

Like SARS, COVID-19 is a coronavirus and a respiratory disease.

“Any type of virus can get to us quickly and spread very quickly depending on how transmission works,” he said.

“It’s the world we live in now and it’s a world of high mobility, and Airbnb plays a major role in facilitating that mobility,” Keil said.

Last fall, the local Planning Appeals Tribunal upheld city-approved rules that were originally slated to go into effect nearly two years ago but were delayed by appeals from rental landlords to short term.

The bylaw is now in effect, a city spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Despite travel bans around the world and numerous Airbnb cancellations by tourists, some are still operating, Wieditz said. Some have been advertised as isolation units, he said.

Property management companies must follow the law and give proper instructions to people. They cannot suggest landlords voluntarily stop rentals, he said.

A spokesperson for ICE property manager Duka Property Management said the condo board decided to take action before receiving notice of the proposed legal claim on Tuesday.

Airbnb Canada’s head of public policy, Alex Dagg, said the company recognizes that businesses, corporations and individuals are all going to respond differently to the pandemic situation.

“There’s no playbook here,” she said.

“There are many people – medical personnel, diplomats returning from overseas, international students – who have nowhere to go after their residences have closed. They looked for places to stay and our hosts were able to provide that for them,” Dagg said.

“We often hear from medical professionals looking for places to stay. They have to isolate themselves from their families,” she said.

Recovery from the business difficulties that hit Airbnb amid the pandemic, in addition to a more regulated environment, will be a fierce challenge for the company, said School of Hospitality and Tourism Management director Professor Frederic Sunday at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University.

Like all other companies, he said Airbnb will suffer a loss.

It refunds reservation deposits and will lose some operators due to their own loss of revenue, as well as the increasingly regulated business environment, Sunday said. But he doesn’t think that will be the end of Airbnb.

“I think the business model has been very well received by travellers. There’s definitely a big market for that stuff. But everything will now be based on trust. If they are able to build trust with customers, they will do well and people will travel again. If they are not able to establish a relationship of trust with operators and customers, it will be more complicated.

Like the cruise industry, Airbnb and other hotel businesses will also struggle to emerge from an economic downturn, Sunday said. People may want to travel again, but they will watch their spending and potentially choose domestic destinations.

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