More than half of Vancouver Airbnb hosts use income to pay rent, mortgage: study

VANCOUVER – The home-sharing service Airbnb is pushing back against growing concerns that it’s having a negative impact on rental vacancies in Vancouver.

A new report released by the company Thursday says more than half of people who rent out their homes do so to afford their skyrocketing cost of living.

“It shows the majority of people in Vancouver are doing this on occasion and doing this as supplemental income,” said Max Pomeranc, Airbnb’s regional head of public policy.

Vancouver is studying the impact of Airbnb and similar websites on rental housing, as the vacancy rate sits at 0.6 per cent. Staff will report to council in September with suggestions on how to regulate the service.

There are over 4,200 active Airbnb hosts in Vancouver with some 6,400 units listed in 2015. Seventy per cent of those were entire homes, while the rest were private or shared rooms.

The report says the average host makes about $6,500 annually by occasionally renting out space and uses at least half of this income on their rent or mortgage, or household items like groceries.

Airbnb says the statistics signal that people aren’t keeping properties vacant to profit on sharing but rather are listing their space when they’re away.

The company prepared the report, based on 2015 survey and bookings data, in response to questions from the city.

Vancouver bylaws prohibit rentals of less than 30 days outside of licensed bed and breakfasts or hotels.

Airbnb is locked in legal battles with San Francisco and New York over their short-term rental laws, but Pomeranc said Chicago and Philadelphia have crafted regulations supported by the company.

“The reason for this conversation is to make sure … we all get together and figure out the type of home sharing that is best for Vancouver.”

The report says more than 80 per cent of all listings were shared for less than 180 days, with only three per cent of listings shared for more than 300 days.

But a local researcher said 180 days is an extremely high cutoff.

Iain Marjoribanks recently released a report that found Airbnb’s top earners in Vancouver are commercial hosts who list multiple units and don’t live in them. He used methodology developed by San Francisco, with cutoffs of 59 days for full homes and 89 days for rooms.

He said Airbnb’s report shows 47 per cent of listings are booked more than 60 days, consistent with his finding that 53 per cent of hosts are commercial users.

“I don’t know anybody who goes on a two-month vacation,” said Marjoribanks, a student at the University of British Columbia’s school of community and regional planning.

A significant number of commercial hosts list units on several home-sharing platforms, including HomeAway and VRBO, he added.

Coun. Geoff Meggs said in an interview this week, before the report was published, that he has little patience for the argument that Airbnb is a good way to supplement income.

“If they’re tenants in a building, they’re undermining tenants like themselves by driving down vacancy rates and forcing up rents. If they’re members of a strata council, they’re doing things that are potentially harmful to members of the community they decided to buy into,” he said.

“I’m more interested in protecting the rental stock for people with medium and low incomes than I am worrying about those who try to maximize their benefits at the expense of others.”

The city has received 24 complaints about short-term rentals this year.

It recently received a complaint about a rental building with multiple units listed on Airbnb. The city said it will issue an order to the owner to comply with the minimum 30-day rental requirement or face further enforcement action.

— Follow @ellekane and @givetash on Twitter.