Victoria’s short-term rental bylaw withstands four tests in court


The City of Victoria has won four court cases in favour of its short-term rental bylaws.

Victoria’s bylaws regulating the short-term rental market state a unit can only be listed on short-term rental websites such as Airbnb or VRBO if it is the principal residence of the person listing the unit.

Rentals are also only permitted for the whole home, if it’s done on occasion such as when the owner is on vacation, or for up to two bedrooms within the home.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps says the city chose to pursue these four court cases to help address some of the most common claims against the bylaw.

“We chose those cases tactically, because those are the ones that are the most common claims that the operations are illegal. And so we really wanted to get a precedent set against the four most common claims about short term rentals,” Helps says.

In the four cases, the reasons for which owners were taken to court included:

  • Operating short-term rentals without a licence in two single-family homes with secondary suites in which the owner did not live
  • A garden suite operating as a short-term rental
  • A condo owner continuing to operate their short-term rental after a licence was denied
  • A short-term rental operating where zoning did not allow for that use

READ MORE: Airbnbs, short term rentals populate Victoria housing market

The bylaw department currently has 400 open investigations into short-term rental units in the city, according to Helps, the court rulings will help as an enforcement tool.

“We’ve taken first an educational-based approach as we do to with most of our bylaws, doing investigations and saying your unit doesn’t come into compliance many people have said ‘okay, that was good while it lasted, I lost it and now I’m either gonna shut it down or return it to the rental housing stock,’” Helps says. “I think these cases will make enforcement easier because if someone wants to take the city to court based on any of those four terms, the city has essentially already won that case in court.”

Helps says the ultimate goal of the short-term rental bylaw is to increase the number of rental units in the market, and she hopes now more homeowners will make that choice.

“The whole thrust of the program in the first place was to return units that had been taken out of the rental stock back into the rental stock in a city with a housing crisis and one of the lowest vacancy rates and most expensive rental markets in the country,” Helps says. “So that’s kind of the really important ‘why’ behind the enforcement. It’s to get as much rental housing back into the pool as possible.”

READ MORE: Victoria says short-term rental regulations have resulted in fewer listings

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Market Report for Greater Victoria shows the vacancy rate has gone from 0.6 per cent in October 2015 to 2.2 per cent in October 2020. The short-term rental bylaw was implemented in 2016.

The City of Victoria says these court cases have resulted in close to $20,000 in fines.

Laura Brougham

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