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Editorial: Airbnb on the radar

["George Street, a popular bar scene in downtown St. John's."]
George Street in downtown St. John’s — Telegram file photo

Pick a week in late September, and you can have your choice of 306 Airbnb rentals in the Northeast Avalon area in and around St. John’s. And those are just the places with available vacancies that week; as Airbnb points out, “only 40 per cent of homes are available for your travel dates.”

You can pick a “Brand new micro-apartment in the heart of St. John’s. Location is less than a 10 minute walk to historic downtown, as well as George Street nightlife. Only slightly over 2 km to the University” for $75 a night.

Is it any wonder that the accommodations industry, Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) and even the City of St. John’s are concerned?

Or maybe a “beautiful three-bedroom heritage townhouse on Jellybean Row … nestled in the heart of the city, this is the perfect location for your stay in St. John’s,” at $95 a night. It’s a stone’s throw away from one of the city’s larger hotels, the Sheraton, where the rate for that week is $179 a night for a single night, $219 with all taxes and fees.

There are more every day: “A beautiful St. John’s condo in a great location,” $75 a night, only went up on the short-term rental site in July. An entire home near the city, $69 a night, started being an Airbnb rental in June. Many of the options are for homes, apartments and rooms that have only come into the Airbnb system in 2018.

Is it any wonder that the accommodations industry, Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador (HNL) and even the City of St. John’s are concerned?

Last week, HNL put out a position paper on short-term rentals, with Hospitality NL chair Larry Laite saying, “(The) short-term rental industry currently operates with limited regulation and there is an acute need for federal, provincial and municipal governments to put in place a modern regulatory framework that will address such unintended consequences as lost taxes and less available housing, as well as promote fairness and protect communities.”

Monday, the City of St. John’s joined in that concern, issuing a statement saying, “Online platforms such as Airbnb are here to stay; they provide an important economic opportunity for property owners, and an option for travellers. It is clear that a modern regulatory system is required.”

The city also has a financial interest: “We are particularly concerned about the collection of the city’s tourism marketing levy…” The city says it’s losing $250,000 a year on uncollected levies, money the city uses to pay for tourism marketing and to finance the convention centre.

The argument is pretty clear: if Airbnb landlords are benefiting financially from the city’s resources, they should have to help pay for those resources.

The sought-for regulation is in the hands of the province. Two other provinces, Quebec and British Columbia, have already struck tax deals.

Reading the tea leaves? Regulation is probably already on the way.

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