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Victoria investigates hundreds of potentially unlicensed Airbnbs amid housing crisis

Airbnb listings in Victoria are shown. (CTV News) Airbnb listings in Victoria are shown. (CTV News)
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In the midst of a housing crisis, the City of Victoria says it's investigating hundreds of Airbnb locations that might not be complying with city rules.

Right now, there are 546 licensed short-term rentals in Victoria, with an additional 23 pending.

According to the city, hundreds more could be operating without a short-term rental license.

"We have 410 active investigations of properties that we believe are not compliant with city bylaws," said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Last year, the city was awarded $20,000 from four cases about unlicensed short-term rentals that went to court.

Five people were issued court orders prohibiting them from operating short-term rentals as a result of the rulings.

An additional $6,250 in fines also went out to other property owners.

"We've proven in court that our bylaw will be upheld, so that’s the biggest threat," said Helps.

"Do you want to spend your time in court fighting the city when you know you’re going to lose or do you want to just come into compliance?" she said.

Downtown Victoria is pictured. (CTV News)

CITY BYLAWS

About five years ago, the city implemented restrictions on short-term rentals as a measure to combat the housing crisis.

Homeowners are eligible for a short-term rental license on their primary residence if they are renting out the entire property, on occasion – or up to two bedrooms in a unit with a shared kitchen while they are home.

Short-term rentals are permitted on secondary residences for periods of less than 30 days.

"We've used the full extent of our authority," said Helps. "We know we're in a crisis. We cracked down on this five years ago before there was a crisis, and we're using all of our tools in our tool box."

"What we need are three things," she added. "One is for the rest of the municipalities in the region to also create regulations so we can all speak as one voice. Two, for Airbnb to not grant access to their platform unless someone can show a City of Victoria business license – and three, for Airbnb to give our bylaw office a list of all the addresses so we can go and check out, do you have a license or do you not?"

While the city does not have authority to force compliance from the short-term rental site, Victoria's mayor says the B.C. government does.

"The province does have that power and could pass legislation, and I know this is something the Union of B.C. Municipalities is working on," said Helps.

"The province is actively working on the housing crisis. Could this be one more tool in their toolbox... could the province release some of these Airbnbs back into housing markets across British Columbia?" Helps said.

The city says its list of investigations is growing as it becomes aware of other potentially non-compliant properties.

The fine for operating a short-term rental without a license in the City of Victoria is $500 per day. The fine for advertising an unlicensed, short-term rental is $250 day. The fines may be retroactive for up to six months. 

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