Winnipeg considers regulations for short-term property rentals like Airbnb

The City of Winnipeg is looking at regulating short-term rental apartments — like the ones listed on Airbnb — to combat concerns about fairness in the hospitality market, noise in high-density areas and even criminal activity. 

City development officials plan to spend the next six months working on regulations for short-term rentals that could require owners to register with the city and submit to criminal background checks.

The city may also limit the number of short-term rentals in a specific block or individual condominium unit, restrict the rentals to primary residences and make them subject to the same five-per-cent municipal accommodation tax hotels are required to pay.

“We want to look at some of the issues we’re having with Airbnbs,” said Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre), who serves as council’s property, heritage and downtown development chair. “We’re doing what other cities have done.”

Gilroy’s committee spent three hours on Tuesday hearing from 14 delegations about the proposed regulations, which will be developed in consultation with Airbnb owners, the hotel industry, tourism authorities and people who live near existing short-term apartment rentals.

The Manitoba Hotel Association wants Winnipeg to adopt rules similar to those in Toronto, where property owners can only list their primary residences.

“It’s the gold standard,” said Scott Jocelyn, president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association, which represents 100 hotels in Winnipeg. 

“It talks about primary residences. It caps the number of nights. Sites have to be licensed. The hosts [and] the platforms have to be registered with the city. It’s a no-brainer.”

Airbnb and property owners who list apartments on the site largely support the idea of regulation, at least when it comes to registration with the city, submitting to background checks and paying accommodation taxes.

Nathan Rotman, Airbnb’s Canadian policy lead, said it’s in Airbnb’s best interest to ensure no one uses its listings for partying and criminal activities. 

He also noted the industry will soon be subject to federal and provincial sales taxes and has no problem being on equal footing with hotels.

“We want to be helping to promote both tourism to Winnipeg but also supporting things like the local business improvement areas and the money that goes to beautifying neighbourhoods and making it a better place for people to visit,” he said via Zoom from Toronto.

Airbnb listings in central Winnipeg on Tuesday. (Airbnb)

More stringent regulations, such as a primary-residence requirement, may not be needed in Winnipeg, he said.

Natalie Bargen, who owns two Winnipeg Airbnb listings, said a primary-residence requirement would not work here.

“It will decimate the short-term rental market in Winnipeg,” she said at city hall.

“I don’t even live in Winnipeg. My primary residence is in Homewood, Man. It’s about an hour drive from here. Nobody’s coming to Manitoba to stay in Homewood. My house will never be a short-term rental. It will never be an Airbnb.”

Cities such as Toronto brought in primary-residence requirements to ease pressure on the housing market. While the Winnipeg market is not as tight, Jocelyn said that could change.

“The housing issue is growing here,” he said. Five years ago when you would have talked about short-term rentals here, you would’ve wondered why we’re even talking about regulations.

“As the issue unfolds, I think the housing issue will become more of an issue in Winnipeg.”

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