Halifax’s new rules for short-term rentals are now in full force, restricting how they can operate in residential neighborhoods in hopes of freeing up the housing stock.
But the city’s tactic of setting different rules for different types of zoning is drawing mixed reactions.
The vast majority of short-term rentals like Airbnbs in Halifax are entire dwellings, such as houses or apartments.
According to the AirDNA data analysis platform, 1,937 ads of the 2,418 active rentals in the municipality as of Friday were for entire homes. The remaining 481 were private rooms.
As of September 1, Both entire unit rentals and room rentals are only permitted in residential areas if they are located within the owner’s primary residence. It is allowed to rent the entire house when the owner is not there. Basement apartments or backyard suites must now be rented for more than 28 days.
Short-term rentals are still allowed in commercial or mixed-use areas where most hotels are located.
Brendan Smith of Dartmouth lives in a triplex in a residential area where he is the only long-term tenant between two Airbnbs. Those units will have to change under the new rules, “and that will be great,” he said.
“Every unit we can get, we need right now,” he said.
Although Smith and other members of the advocacy group Neighbors Speak Up hope the owner-occupancy rule will apply to all parts of Halifax, Smith said this is a good first step.
For homeowners worried about losing money due to regulations, Smith said rules have been constantly being introduced to limit Airbnbs and other vacation rentals in cities around the world. The owners knew changes were coming when Halifax council directed staff in 2020 to consider making specific changes to the bylaws.
With Halifax real estate prices rising dramatically in recent years, Smith said homeowners who feel they have to sell are likely to make a profit.
“I find it hard to believe that anyone would be upset by these regulations, and if they are, it’s only because they didn’t do their homework and that’s up to them,” Smith said.
Count. Shawn Cleary voted against the rules, saying he heard a lot of confusion from residents because of Halifax’s zoning mosaic.
“You could have the same neighborhood: one side of the street would allow it, the other side your neighbor might, but you wouldn’t,” Cleary said.
Another concern for Cleary has been the lack of accurate data. Although AirDNA can provide a general area where rentals are located, it can’t identify civic numbers, so Cleary said it’s unclear exactly how many listings are now illegal.
It could be that only 100 or 200 units are converted back into long-term housing, Cleary said, which is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the thousands of units Halifax now needs each year to address the housing crisis and a growing population.
He said other approaches might be more successful in getting more units back on the regular rental market. Most other cities in Canada have taken a different tack, including only allowing rentals on primary residences, rather than investment properties, or limiting how many nights a year a rental can be offered.
Cleary said the people most affected by the regulations are those who have basement units or a second-income property that they use to help pay their bills and mortgages.
“It’s going to cause a lot of turmoil in the market. It’s going to cause people a lot of pain,” Cleary said.
But real estate agent Tanya Colbo of Royal LePage said this move could at least lead to people being able to rent in vibrant areas that have seen large numbers of Airbnbs, like her own North End neighborhood.
So far, Colbo said, there hasn’t been a rush of people selling their rentals short-term, though a handful of his clients have taken that step. In one case, a large house in Dartmouth was renovated with plans for two Airbnbs, but the owner decided to sell it in light of the new rules.
“The owners didn’t want to be long-term owners, they just didn’t want to take responsibility,” Colbo said.
It seems that some listings are already moving from Airbnb to long-term listings.
Ten short-term rental listings vetted by CBC shared the same location, description and photos as long-term rental listings on Facebook Marketplace seeking tenants for eight-month or one-year leases.
Because the rules only apply to rentals of 28 days or less, Airbnbs that offer longer stays are allowed to stay in residential areas.
Avery Birch, of property management company Sweet Digs, said that’s exactly his team’s plan.
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They handle more than 100 short-term rentals in the city, and Birch said there’s a lot of demand from people wanting units for a month or more when they move to Halifax or work on a contract.
“I think Halifax has taken a very balanced approach, I really, really do. It’s going to appease both ends of the spectrum,” Birch said.
“What the city says it wants to see with this new plan, it’s just going to continue to create density downtown… I think everyone feels a commitment, so I think it’s a good compromise.”
Provincial list data coming soon
Whether the city can adequately enforce the new rules is another question, but a city spokesman said Halifax is working to fill vacant statutory officer vacancies in the enforcement division.
All short term rental owners now you have to register in the provinceand that data will eventually be shared with Halifax so that staff soon know where in the city they are.
Anyone renting short or long term will also need to register in Halifax by April 2024 for the city. new rental record. As of Friday, the city said it had received about 300 applications for that list, four of which were short-term rentals.
The new short-term regulations apply to all parts of the municipality, but rural areas have more flexible zoning so the city says short-term rentals can probably continue for now. The staff is examining whether rural regions will need a different approach.
Anyone with questions about the new rules or who wants to file a complaint about an Airbnb suspected of being illegal can call 311.