Winnipeg proposes rules to tax, limit Winnipeg Airbnb rentals

People in Winnipeg who rent out properties on sites like Airbnb could face a long list of new regulations.

Neigbhours and industry members have advocated for regulations for years, but some raised concerns the proposed rules might go too far, while others say they don’t go far enough.

A new report at city hall recommends imposing the five per cent accommodation tax to all short-term rental bookings. Properties would need to be licensed annually, and people would be limited to listing their primary residences and up to one additional property.

Primary residences can be listed anywhere in the city, but secondary residence listings would be restricted to areas zoned multi-family, commercial or downtown. 

Sinan Leylek has lived in his downtown condo building since 2016. More than a quarter of the 200 units are currently listed on sites like Airbnb, he said.

“It really comes down to safety and quality of life,” he said, adding that there are some units that repeatedly have problems.

“People climbing over my balcony at 4:00 in the morning and banging on my window, or people having sex right in plain view of my couch, looking onto their balcony there. We’ve had fights in the hallway, broken glass, police, paramedics come. It’s just one of these ongoing things. And it’s the same unit.”

Sometimes there are more serious concerns about criminal activity, including drug and sex trafficking, he said.

With people only staying for brief amounts of time, dealing with problem renters can be difficult. That’s why Leylak and other neighbours of short-term rental units have demanded action from the City of Winnipeg.

No limits on 2nd listings in multi-family buildings 

Although he’s glad to see some regulations proposed, he worries they don’t do enough to improve the situation in his building.

He would like to see the prohibition on secondary residential listings extended to the downtown and multi-family buildings like his.

“That’s what the [city] report says are the most negatively impacted residents, those that live downtown and live in multi-unit buildings,” he said.

The recommendations also include an enforcement framework, with officers conducting inspections in the evenings, weekends and weekdays. Properties would have to comply with safety requirements, and failure to follow the rules could result in the city revoking the property’s licence.

The report proposes no limit on the number of nights per year a primary residence can be rented while the owner is there, but a maximum of 150 nights per year when the owner is not living at the property. A secondary unit can be rented an unlimited number of nights per year

Michelle Finley has rented out the house next to her primary resilience in St. James for about a year. 

She welcomes the tax on bookings and the licensing requirements, and says she already complies with most of the city’s other proposed regulations, but worries about the rule forbidding secondary listings in single-family zones.

“That would effectively shut our business down, because we aren’t downtown, we’re in a residential R1, R2 neighbourhood,” she said, referring to the regulations for areas that are zoned for single-family zones and duplexes.

Possible workarounds

A hotel industry spokesperson says there are ways businesses with multiple properties could get around the new rules limiting the number of units people can list.

An individual could set up several numbered companies, each of which could own a single unit, potentially skirting the limit on individuals or corporations listing more than one non-primary residence. 

“That’s part of the enforcement piece that we’re really looking for … of the principal residence plus one,” said Michael Juce, president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association. 

Nathan Rotman, Canadian policy lead for Airbnb, said the company supports “fair regulations that protect the ability of local residents to share their home to supplement their income.” 

The company also welcomes the cap on the number of nights a host can operate their primary residence when they are not there. 

The city’s report included studies of regulatory regimes in other Canadian cities, including Calgary, Saskatoon and London, Ont.

Mayor Scott Gillingham’s inner circle, the executive policy committee, will vote on the new rules next Tuesday.

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