Photo via RCLALQ.
On March 16, 2023, tragedy strikes when a fire in a building at Place d'Youville, in Montreal’s Old Port, kills seven individuals. According to La Presse, victims include Nathan Sears, 35, An Wu, 31, Charlie Lacroix, 18, Walid Belkahla, 18, Dania Zafar, 31, Saniya Khan, 31 and Camille Maheux, 76. Authorities stated that the building was illegally listed on Airbnb and did not follow regulations. Furthermore, all long-term and short-term Airbnb rentals are prohibited in the Old Port. The landlord, Emile Benamor, sued by one of the victim's parents, had previously been fined and found guilty of tax evasion. Immediately after the event, Quebec Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx promised Airbnb’s illegal actions would not go unnoticed and The Tourism Accommodation Act would be revised to prevent such future events. The RCLALQ – The Coalition of Housing Committees and Tenants Associations of Quebec claims that the Quebec Government has failed to address this issue, which has been a preoccupation for a long time.
Airbnb is an American company founded in San Francisco in 2008. The company is owned by CEOs Brian Chesky and Nathan Blecharczyk. The platform allows users to rent Airbnbs in the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe. Although the company has seen success from 2016 onward, it has often been criticized. The company has been condemned for increasing rental prices, removing long-term properties from the rental market, and making long-term rents more expensive. Some users also report scams. Airbnb in different cities has refused to follow regulations and has been involved in posting illegal rentals not verified by the company.
After the March 16, 2023 tragedy, Airbnb promised to delete illegal Airbnb listings and to review listings by March 28, 2023. Since March 17, 2023, there has been a slight increase in demands for registration numbers, but this change does not reflect the decrease in illegal Airbnbs, according to Le Journal de Québec. Many listings are still using fake registration numbers. On March 29, 2023, according to RCLALQ, Inside Airbnb showed that 58% of listed Airbnbs in Montreal are unlicensed, while 42.3% are licensed.
The CITQ – la Corporation de l’industrie touristique du Québec – has been entrusted by the minister to uphold The Quebec Tourism Accommodation Act. On the CITQ website, it is stated that “In Quebec, by Law, any cottage, apartment or houses rented for periods of 31 days or less must have an official registration number.” Airbnb has deliberately failed to resolve the situation since the tragedy and has even suggested that landlords list illegal Airbnbs for a rental period of more than 31 days, evading the official registration number law for rental periods of 31 days or less. As a result, many illegal Airbnbs remain on the website. The Tourism Accommodation Act is vague and allows companies like Airbnb to take advantage of legislation for personal ends. According to RCLTQ, illegal listings benefit from the current legislation.
While Revenu Québec is tasked with inspections of short-term rental properties, according to RCLALQ, as of March 31, 2022, from 2021 to 2022, only 3,812 inspections were completed, with 584 infraction warnings, 1,961 infractions, 1,099 convictions, and $4,291,631 worth of fines. These numbers show that first, there are a few inspections compared to the number of short-term rental properties in Quebec. Then, the difference between the number of infractions compared to the number of convictions is nearly 1,000. This data shows how Revenu Québec failed to inspect most of Quebec's properties. However, according to a Revenu Québec spokesperson interviewed by CBC News, “the agency doesn’t have the mandate to apply municipal regulations.” If Revenu Quebec does not have the authority to act, then who does?
Recent research conducted by the RCLALQ reveals shocking numbers. As of February 2023, Airbnb had 29,482 active listings in the province of Quebec. Out of the 29,482, 23,245 are illegal, almost 80%. These numbers reflect low-season tourism. Therefore, numbers would be higher during the tourism season. As of February 2023, around 10.5% of rental properties in Montreal were listed on Airbnb. The company has dominated the rental market in many regions of Quebec by listing short-term rentals, contributing to the Quebec housing shortage. Airbnb has been participating in the phenomenon called “Financialization of housing,” which the CMHC – Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation – defines as “the belief that changes in housing and financial markets have resulted in housing being treated as a commodity.” Although housing is an essential good and human right, it also generates profits. Hence, housing is a commodity that creates wealth. As a result, housing is becoming less affordable, and rent prices are increasing.
A small group of individuals owns most properties listed on Airbnb. There were 9,190 Airbnb’s in Montreal as of February 2023 and 5,183 landlords. The top 5 local landlords own 4,74 % of the properties on Airbnb. 1.45% of landlords own 25 % of local Airbnbs. 0.27 % of landlords own 10% of local Airbnbs. These numbers show that not only agencies like Corporate Stays and Les Lofts du Vieux-Québec possess short-term rental properties but also a tiny number of Quebec locals.
If you plan to travel, travel safely and take all precautions. While Quebec Minister of Tourism Caroline Proulx has yet to take concrete action, The Plant advises that you carefully check Airbnbs before renting them. Ensure that listings have an official registration number and that Airbnbs follows safety norms and municipality regulations.