Ottawa's Byward Market 'the epicentre of Airbnb" says Hotel Association

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That Airbnb in your neighbourhood could become an election issue.

Hotel owners in Canada are pushing the federal parties to take a stand on the whole issue of short-term rentals. And one Ottawa councillor says regulations are urgently needed.   

Probably nowhere is the issue of short-term rentals bigger than in Ottawa’s Byward Market.  According to the Hotel Association, this area has now surpassed Toronto's waterfront as the epicentre of Airbnbs, with as many as 11-hundred units available on a regular basis.

Take a look at almost any neighbourhood in Ottawa and you're bound to find a property listed on Airbnb.  One estimate says about 10-thousand residents in this region hosted their home last year as a short-term rental.

“The emergence of these short-term rentals,” Steve Ball, the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association said at a news conference in Ottawa today, “and the frightening pace of growth, particularly by these commercial operations where the homeowner is not living in the building is like a virus creeping into our residential neighbourhoods.”

They are harsh words from the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association but they're fighting for an equal playing field, they say, demanding Airbnb pay a corporate tax and hosts charge HST.

“All we're asking are fair rules,” said Alana Baker, the Director of Government Relations with the Hotel Association of Canada, “If someone is operating the same business as a hotel, it should be subject to the same rules and regulations that hotels are subject to.”

"The big corporate hotels are at it again," Airbnb said in a statement, "peddling lies about home sharing to protect their ability to price gouge consumers, and preserve antiquated business models."

The Hotel Association, however, says this goes beyond their concern for lost revenue.  They say homeowners have a stake in this, too, because there's nothing stopping someone buying a house in a neighbourhood and turning it into a permanent short-term rental.”

It's happened at a home in Westboro where a weekend party got out of control, prompting a police response, creating a legitimate fear for Ottawa homeowners when a nearby property goes up for sale.

“I'm not sure about that,” says Ottawa homeowner Jane Tousignant, “Strangers come back and forth and we don't know who they are?”

“That’s the irony,” adds homeowner Julia Gibson, “We do use them (Airbnb); they're convenient. You feel that sense of living in someone's community which is beautiful but you could be interfering with their home.”

Ottawa councillor Rick Chiarelli has been working on this issue for a decade.

“It’s a massive problem in three areas of the city and it’s a growing problem,” Chiarelli says.  He wants regulations in place now.

“People are concerned with individuals buying a whole house and turning into a de facto hotel in an area that wasn't zoned for that,” he says, “that's supposed to be a community.  We're going to side with the community on this and fix it.”

What that fix will be, we will see in the fall.  Chiarelli wants bylaws relating to short terms rentals and agreements to inspect these properties. He says the city isn't out to stop people from renting a room in their houses; just not turning their house into a “ghost hotel.”