Airbnb. It’s the accommodation solution that allows tourists to enjoy anything from a room in someone’s home to an entire house or condo for less than the cost of a typical hotel. The Airbnb host makes money, the tourist has more choice and control over their budget, and everyone is happy! Right? What could go wrong…
While many hosts and tourists report wonderful experiences on both sides of the equation, the Airbnb experience isn’t as straightforward as it seems – especially for condo owners.
“The condominium industry is diverse and, in many cases, incorporates residential, commercial and retail spaces under one roof,” explains Curtis Siracky, chair of the Association of Condominium Managers of Alberta (ACMA). “A common concern that has surfaced over the past several years is the Airbnb opportunity for individual unit owners in residential condominiums. The short-term rental scenario creates problems with the security and safety, and compromises the privacy of individual owners that reside in these condominiums.”
He continues, “These rentals are becoming more popular for owners to ‘maximize’ the amount of revenue for their investment and promote it to a larger audience. The stay or occupancy of an Airbnb is normally one night or very short-term. Apartment style condominiums appear to have more Airbnbs than the standard single-family house, town house or duplex style condominium unit. Apartments in Edmonton are typically a lower price point for investors, which make them more attractive. A person that would normally go to a hotel would alter their decision and could get a larger space for a fraction of the cost in a more convenient area with an Airbnb rental.”
For many condo owners that are not Airbnb hosts, this is an issue.
“The biggest problem in condominiums with these short-term rentals is that no one knows who is renting the units,” Siracky confirms. “These occupants and their guests are allowed into secure and private property areas. The short-term occupants abuse parking, policies, and the corporation bylaws mainly because they are not aware, or they just don’t care as they will be gone the next day. There is also no governance over Airbnbs, and owners that use their units as a short-term rental are not required to comply with the Public Health Act and Regulations. This creates concerns with cleanliness and no standard for health.”
ACMA would like to see change in this regard.
“ACMA’s position on Airbnbs is that short term occupancy needs to be more regulated by local municipalities, which will create a better living environment for condominium owners and also help board members deal with this growing industry in the private sector. ACMA strongly advocates that condominium corporations review their current bylaws and make amendments that give them the ability to either allow or deny an Airbnb or short-term rental.”
Earlier this year a condominium corporation sued owners who were renting their units as Airbnbs, arguing that the owners were violating commercial use bylaws. The owners hit back stating the bylaws also said, “Bylaw cannot operate to prevent an owner from leasing a unit.”
“Many condominium bylaws prohibit commercial businesses as they propose liabilities not only to the resident or occupant of a unit, but to the common property,” Siracky explains regarding this case. “Condominium boards have challenged short term rentals when faced with problematic units. This would heavily rely on how the bylaws of that condominium is worded for anything to be strongly enforced. Condominium boards may fine the unit owner when the occupants breach bylaws. Sometimes the fines prevent an owner from continuing with an Airbnb as the fines are larger than the revenues.
“We have heard that some condominium corporations have written into their bylaws to not allow short term rentals based on a period of time. This would allow an owner to still lease their own units, however the term of the that lease would be a minimum of one month or longer.”
With these types of complications, what is the draw of being an Airbnb host?
With one host claiming she earned more than $2,000 in a month thanks to renting her home temporarily, it’s not hard to see why hosts are keen on Airbnb. It’s a profitable solution to keep money coming in from income properties and can shore up sagging financials for individuals in an economy with a growing unemployment rate. But perhaps the biggest reason why Airbnb is such a juggernaut is because there is an insatiable demand for the product; and where demand goes, supply follows.
Tammy Deren is well known in the Edmonton creative business scene as the entrepreneur behind both The Photographer Studio and Smiley Eyes Photography, and for her philanthropy with non-profits like Thrive Fashion Show. Add to the mix that Deren is a dance mom that travels with her daughter during competition season and that she is an avid tourist and adventurer herself, and you can see why she turns to Airbnb when travelling for personal and professional reasons.
“I have been using Airbnb for just over three years and have not stayed in a hotel since, with the exception of resorts out of country,” Deren confirms. “I started discovering Airbnb when hotels started going way up in price and I needed a ‘home away from home’ for a longer than normal stay due to my father passing away.”
Her first Airbnb was a quaint cabin on a beautiful gardened property and the price of $126/night included extras like a light breakfast and fresh coffee. Considering the sad reason for having to travel for that time period, the stay was a big help both financially and emotionally.
“From that day on I was hooked,” she continues. “I have since stayed in dozens of Airbnbs all over Canada and some of them even provide homemade baked goods, separate bedrooms, full kitchens, laundry facilities, swimming pools, hot tubs and so much more depending on the property owner. I have a stay coming up that has a lovely claw tub in the bathroom that I can’t wait to sink into after a long day at my daughter’s recitals. It sure beats staying in a cramped hotel room.”
For the most part, Deren’s experiences have been positive, but there was an issue based on a misunderstanding. She uses her misadventure, and her knowledge about Airbnb, to counsel other guests on how to have a stay that is positive for guests, hosts, and others living at or near property.
“It was partly my fault,” Deren admits. “The space was wonderful and very comfortable. I had a friend I hadn’t seen in years come by for wine, and like all fun girls tend to do, we may have had one glass too many! I offered her the couch for the evening as she lived two hours away. The owner saw her leave the next morning and was quite upset with me for breaking her rule of no guests. I bought her a huge box of fresh picked blueberries from a farmer nearby, but she refused to give me a good (Airbnb customer) review and was quite short with me.
“Each property has their own set of rules, so be sure that you read each set of rules very closely. Always respect the property. Always clean up after yourself. Always treat it like you are a guest in their home.”
In trying to balance the popularity of Airbnb with the entrepreneurial opportunity for hosts and the needs of those unwittingly impacted, like non-Airbnb hosts living in a condo where some unit owners are selling short term rentals, there is not a clear path forward – yet. Until legislation is enacted and bylaws are changed, it falls on the guests to respect the property and the hosts to consider their neighbours as we all pursue the accommodating perks and perils of Airbnb.