Will Mississauga Ban Airbnb?

For a lot of homeowners and travelers, Airbnb has been invaluable.

For some politicians and their constituents, however, it has been a nightmare.

Back in May, reports emerged that an Airbnb rental property -- or rather, an Airbnb Party House -- was making life miserable for some residents in Meadowvale. Councillor Sue McFadden told the Mississauga News that the house -- located at 6323 Snowflake Lane -- had been a haven for raucous partiers for three months and that the most she could do was send bylaw enforcement officers to continously deal with the fallout of the wild tenancy.

A month earlier, Toronto Life published a personal essay by a Toronto woman who had her home trashed by a tenant who actually hired a DJ -- HIRED A DJ! -- to spin in her living room. One of the uninvited guests even thought it appropriate to take a shower and wash their sweaty locks with a bottle of Playboy shampoo (that they graciously left behind, to be fair). The damage totaled more than $35,000.

While such incidents are isolated and not indicative of a pattern of behavioral problems among Airbnb or other short-term tenants, some residents and city councillors feel that the organization needs to be regulated or otherwise controlled on a municipal level.

"The problem is people with no pride of ownership having parties and having no regard for noise or neighbours or parking or garbage," says Mississauga Ward 2 Councillor Karen Ras. "There should be an education campaign. The city is looking into a motion to look at this [short-term rental] industry to see if there are regulations or licensing or oversight we can put on Airbnb and other short-term rental companies."

Ras, however, is clear that an outright ban isn't in the cards -- and that it's difficult for municipalities to regulate industries that are already thriving by the time they enter their wards.

"I don't think an outright ban is feasible," she says. "Every other city is dealing with the same issue and the challenge with the sharing economy is that cities don't have much flexibility when it comes to dealing with it. How can we get ahead of issues [before they happen]? We need to get out ahead instead of being reactive."

Another issue, Ras says, is the impact the industry has on Peel's precarious rental market.

"Our rental vacancy rates in Peel are very low, under two per cent," she says. "Short-term rentals are lucrative for homeowners, but they deplete the rental stock for people looking for long-term homes."

While short-term rentals aren't new, Airbnb is probably one of the most visible organizations that links homeowners with tenants looking for a space for a few days or weeks. A quick glance at the company's website reveals dozens of listings for Mississauga alone -- a clear indication that people will continue to use the service to make extra cash or save a little dough on accommodations. While most tenants are well behaved, the few who are not tend to cause the most memorable headaches -- and, for many residents and city councillors, it's frustrating to not be able to hold landlords, tenants or the rental companies themselves accountable.

"It's always just a few bad examples of people being disruptive to the neighbourhood," says Ras. "I have a friend in Toronto who had his place trashed by Airbnb renters. We expect a level of decorum and safety in our city and this takes that away and creates fear."

So, what can Mississauga do to stop bad behavior before it happens?

"Education for online companies," she says. "Is there a way for neighbours to complain to them so they can step in and help? We have city staff looking at mechanisms used across North America to see what works, but I don't know what that framework will look like yet."

Ras says that controlling these types of markets is notoriously difficult and mentions the case of Collingwood. The picturesque town hasn't had trouble dealing with Airbnb per se, but the influx of short-term vacationers has, at times, made life difficult for residents.

"Collingwood has had minimal success with licensing," she says. "[The question is], if you put a bylaw in place, will it stick or will it be taken to court? There should be an onus on the companies to lay out a code of conduct for the landlord and set out expectations for tenants."

As far as city regulations go, council is currently assembling a report addressing the issue. Ras expects that report to be released sometime this fall.

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