Unlicensed vacation rentals in the City of White Rock is an issue that doesn’t seem to be going away, but of particular concern to at least one city councillor are homes that seemingly operate as illegal bed-and-breakfasts.
“You’re not talking short-term rental here, you’re talking an illegal hotel,” Coun. Anthony Manning told Peace Arch News Tuesday. “Some of them are advertising five, six rooms available.”
Prior to meeting with PAN, Manning said he counted 92 vacation rentals listed in the city, which is similar to what PAN counted last April.
In contrast, the city has issued 21 business licences for short-term rental.
White Rock resident Christian Lane, who had an unsuccessful bid for council last civic election, has raised the issue of unlicensed AirBnB’s multiple times to PAN and on social media.
On Twitter earlier this month, Lane highlighted an example of an AirBnB listing that contradicts city bylaw.
“Say hello to Anne,” Lane tweeted, while linking to an AirBnB listing. “Anne owns a home in White Rock. Anne also has 4 AirBnB listings for her home. Anne doesn’t actually live in her home. Anne is in violation of (White Rock) bylaws. Don’t be like Anne.”
Say hello to Anne. Anne owns a home in White Rock. Anne also has 4 @Airbnb listings for her home.
Anne doesn’t actually live in her home. Anne is in violation of @whiterockcity bylaws.
Don’t be Anne. https://t.co/6seb6TmE8n
— Christian Lane (@ChristianLaneWR) November 6, 2019
Aside from being lost revenue for the city, unlicensed rentals remove potential suites or homes from the city’s already stressed rental market. Unlicensed properties also have no city oversight into safety features such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers or an adequate number of exits in case of an emergency, Manning said.
Bylaw enforcement of unlicensed vacation rentals has proved to be a challenge.
“Trying to keep on top of it is like a game of whack-a-mole,” Manning said, adding that when the city shuts down one AirBnB, another seems to become available.
He said bylaw enforcement is complaint driven, however officers search vacation rental websites for unlicensed rentals. Manning noted that bylaw does this job on top of other responsibilities.
“These are the same folks that are down on the promenade checking on dog licences and people picking up after their dogs. They’re also going to construction sites and making sure the permitting processes are being followed.”
Fines for unlicensed short-term rentals range from $500 for first offence to $2,000 for third offence.
Although Manning said he doesn’t support an outright ban of AirBnB in the city, he said “it’s certainly tempting” to consider it.
Noting that White Rock is a tourist-based community with only one hotel, Manning expressed concern that banning vacation-rentals from operating in the city would just drive the market further underground.
“For those who follow the rules, it’s an extra income stream for them. If they’re following the bylaw, they’re licensed, they have all the safety guidelines being follow – why should we be depriving someone of that income stream, because they probably need it.”
He pointed to efforts in Barcelona, which has the resources to go after AirBnB. Last year, Barcelona told the city to remove 2,577 listings it found to be operating without a licence. If AirBnB decided to not comply, the city threatened to take the company to court.
During the 2018 Civic campaign, Manning said there were a surprising number of homes throughout the city that appeared to be vacant.
According to data from Statistics Canada, there were 851 vacant homes in the City of White Rock in 2016. The total number of dwellings was 10,856.