MONTREAL — The Quebec government's crackdown on Airbnb has upended Montreal's short-term rental market, leading some to welcome the changes and others scurrying to evade the new rules.
Last week, following a fire in Old Montreal that killed seven people — including six who were staying in unlicensed short-term rentals — Airbnb said it would remove illegal Quebec listings from its site. The Quebec government has said it would introduce a bill to force other platforms to do the same.
Montreal's tourism promotion agency, Tourisme Montréal, said it welcomes Airbnb's decision.
"At Tourisme Montréal, we often talk about being a harmonious destination; harmony takes different forms in the city, but there's no harmony when it's done illegally," Aurélie de Blois, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an interview. "There can't be a healthy industry if it's based on not respecting laws."
She said 9.5 million visitors are expected in the city this year, adding that about 20 per cent of tourists in past years stayed in short-term rentals. She said there should be enough space this season in hotels and legal short-term rentals; however, she said prices for both types of accommodations may rise and some tourists may have to stay in the suburbs.
Marc-Antoine Vachon, a professor at Université du Québec à Montréal who holds the Transat chair in tourism, said he expects the new rules to reduce the number of units on the market — but he said the market should adapt.
"This year, in the very short term, it may be a little more problematic, but it would be surprising if it was catastrophic," he said, adding that it could push hotel prices up, especially during particularly busy periods.
Dany Papineau, who has listed his home on short-term rental platforms since 2012 and created a website for short-term cottage rentals — WeChalet — said the crackdown on unlicensed listings could lead property owners to put units back on the long-term rental market. Others may sell their cottages, he added.
But he said he worries the proposed law could affect his Quebec-headquartered company more than his international competitors — such as Airbnb and Facebook — because it will be easier for the government to fine him for illegal listings.
Quebec's regulations are confusing, Papineau said. They require hosts to obtain a permit, list the permit number in all advertising, and ensure their property is in an area where short-term rentals are allowed by municipal bylaws.
"It is complicated and it keeps changing all the time, so for regular people, it's very hard to know how this works."
But, if the new law is done right, he said, it could benefit hosts who are in compliance. “If they find a good way to do it, of course, it’s going to create a surge in demand for people that have their legal listings, because there’s going to be less competition for them."
Some hosts, however, appear to be attempting to get around the ban.
Murray Cox, the founder of Inside Airbnb, an independent website that tracks the platform, said that while almost all Quebec listings on the site now include a licence number, it's not clear how many of those numbers are real.
He said the number of active listings in the province with a licence number rose to 2,816 on March 29 from 1,141 on March 16.
"So that's 1,675 Airbnb listings that were able to suddenly license themselves almost overnight," he said in an interview.
He said he found 1,519 listings with licence numbers that appeared in five or more listings — including 29 listings using the number 123456.
In total, the number of short-term rentals in Quebec listed on Airbnb has dropped by 76 per cent, and the overall number of listings has been cut in half. He said he believes most of those properties will return to the long-term housing market.
In an email, Airbnb said it's up to the province to check whether registration numbers are valid. The company said information from third-party sites that scrape data from Airbnb can be inaccurate, but did not provide any data of its own.
On other short-term rental sites — Booking.com and Vrbo — The Canadian Press was able to find dozens of new listings that don't include permit numbers.
Booking.com said it works "closely" with municipalities to ensure that regulations are followed.
"If we are ever made aware that a property may not be operating in compliance with local regulations, we investigate immediately and will remove the property from the site," the company said in an emailed statement.
Vrbo did not respond to requests for comment.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said it's not surprising that people are trying to get around the ban and that regulations will have to adapt.
"I think it's a work in progress and having the law reinforced to make sure that only the legal owners are able to show on the Airbnb platform, or other short-term housing platforms, is a great start," she told reporters this week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press