Edmonton residents urge city to crack down on short-term rentals

Angela Sun stepped outside her home one day last October to find five police officers in bulletproof vests aiming machine guns at the house across the street, where a woman had been stabbed.

The short-term rental property had already generated a number of complaints about excessive noise and parties. Now her block was shut down and police were using a megaphone to convince a suspect to step outside.
    
“It’s a ticking bomb,” said Sun, one of 18 people who spoke to the urban planning committee on Tuesday as city council considers stricter rules to govern short-term rental properties. 

“I do not personally feel safe living in this neighborhood right now,” Sun said. “I do not want to walk through my back alley or walk out across the street in front of their house. I do not want my daughter to play in the front yard.”

Though the property has now been delisted on Airbnb, the committee was told it is now listed on other rental platforms. Sun was one of a several residents who called on the city to implement rules that will effectively crack down on problem properties. She wants rules enforced so commercial operations won’t be allowed to operate in residential neighbourhoods.

Angela Sun says the activities at two short-term rental properties in the Garneau neighborhood left her feeling unsafe. ( Manuel Carrillos Avalos)

Neil Richards, a resident in Lake Summerside, was among the speakers who said a new report by city administration does not effectively deal with the problems. He said regulations should require that someone responsible for a short-term rental must live there.

“In our particular case the operator has, I think it’s 25 properties throughout Alberta, and even some in the United States,” Richards said. “So obviously they’re not around to supervise what goes on.

“We’ve had several parties that went on all night long. Police have been called out. We’ve had traffic jams all around the street. We’ve had all kinds of noise issues. And this has only been in the past several months.”

But several operators said they had received no complaints and shouldn’t be punished for the actions of a few bad hosts. Kimberly Kluthe, who rents a space in her basement, urged councillors to find balance.

According to the report, there were 2,146 short-term rentals in Edmonton as of May 2019. Between April 2018 and December 2019, they generated 43 public complaints. Council directed the city administration to look at a range of options to manage concerns, including zoning, taxation, licensing and provincial regulation.

One proposed rule in Tuesday’s report would require hosts to display their business licence number when advertising.

Airbnb, which was represented at the meeting, urged the city to amend a bylaw passed in August that requires all operators to apply for business licences. 

Airbnb spokesperson Nathan Rotman described the bylaw as cumbersome and confusing compared to rules in other similar-sized cities.

“They’ve created a series of different licences you have to get,” he said. “You can be paying up to 400-and-change dollars in order to share your own home. In Calgary it’s much simpler. It’s based on how many bedrooms. One hundred dollars for up to four bedrooms and about 200 for over five bedrooms. Much simpler, easy-to-use system.”

The report said the administration anticipates minor changes to the business licence bylaw in January 2021 with the potential for more robust changes to be brought forward later next year.

Later Tuesday, the committee passed a motion recommending to city council that the administration explore a number of potential bylaw changes. That includes establishing a notification process to adjacent property owners, addressing concerns about maximum number of occupants and developing a bylaw infraction threshold that would result in suspension or removal of business licences.

Councillors Aaron Paquette, Tim Cartmell and Scott McKeen voted in favour of the motion. Andrew Knack and Moe Banga voted against it.

Cartmell said the committee heard from many responsible owners who thought they shouldn’t suffer because of the bad actions of a few people.

“That resonates with me,” he said. “I still do not like the aspect of this that when something goes wrong with an absent rental owner that it’s the neighbours that become the night clerk that have to beckon the police or call bylaw. That’s an unfair burden to put on your neighbours.”

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