MONTREAL – Quebec may be the first Canadian jurisdiction to regulate home-sharing services but the new provincial law won’t become the only model guiding the evolution of Airbnb, says a senior company executive.
“What works for one community may not work for another,” Chip Conley, global head of strategy and hospitality, said in an interview.
“The question I think people have is how is it properly regulated in a way that makes sense for local communities and that may be different in Vancouver than it may be in Toronto.”
There are vast differences in approaches, including taxation laws, in the 34,000 cities in which Airbnb currently operates.
Conley said the company has no problem with local regulations that require, for example, guests to pay lodging taxes or that force property owners who rent out units as a full-time business to register with authorities.
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“To be regulated is to be accepted,” he said.
However, he added that Quebec’s law, which came into effect on April 15, needs to make a clearer distinction between property managers who make hundreds of thousands of dollars and home owners who occasionally rent out their primary residences a few times a year to help pay for vacations.
The Quebec law requires owners who frequently rent out their properties to obtain the same provincial certification as hotel and bed-and-breakfast operators, and therefore charge travellers lodging taxes of up to 3.5 per cent.
Since its implementation last month, requests for certification have more than doubled, said the tourism agency responsible for implementing the law.
Violators face fines between $500 and $50,000.
Xavier Gret of the Quebec Hotel Association says he’s optimistic the province has found the formula to regulate a problem angering an industry that claims to have lost thousands of room rentals due to the presence of Airbnb in the province.
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The association says hotels are not opposed to the use of technology but want a level playing field to compete against Airbnb.
“We are not in a war with the Airbnb platform,” he said in an interview.
Canada is one of Airbnb’s largest global markets, and Montreal is one of its Top 10 cities. Nearly a million Canadians have used Airbnb and about 650,000 visitors to Canada used Airbnb last year.
Airbnb has launched a pilot project in Ontario. It emails the 11,000 people in the province who list their homes on the site, telling them to report the income and educate themselves about consumer protection rights such as cancellations and refunds.
It’s also testing in several cities an initiative in which landlords get a cut when allowing tenants to rent their units.
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Critics of the service say it’s rife with entrepreneurs renting out multiple properties. Airbnb says 85 per cent of its global “hosts” rent out their primary residences in large cities on average five to six times a month.
Still, Conley acknowledges that Airbnb can have a negative impact on housing availability in cities with affordable housing crises.
He said the service removes tens of thousands of listings that involve speculators converting entire buildings into illegal hotels. In cities like San Francisco, for example, hosts are not permitted to rent out secondary residences.