Airbnb: A Dream and a Nightmare

How the home-sharing app is both good and bad for travelers and owners

Rachel D’Sa // Columns Editor

In April of this year, Vancouver cracked down on Airbnbs, transforming it for the better for its users. The city put in place new regulations ultimately putting a ban on non-principal residences being used as short-term rental houses and apartments. The city now also requires everyone short-term leasing principal residences to pay an annual $49 business licensing fee, in addition to a $54 activation fee.

These regulations were put into place upon the discovery of many illegal short-term listings across home-sharing sites, including Airbnb. The service is notorious for its easy-to-use, easy-to-access process, making it a breeze to find vacation homes all year round, even on short notice. In turn, many property owners have been taking advantage of desperate travelers in need of a place to rest their heads.

The regulations, while addressing smaller issues, work towards mending a much larger-scale problem. In an effort to alleviate the housing crisis, the new policies ultimately ban full-time short-term rentals in otherwise empty houses, and free up high-demand living spaces for those looking to be in Vancouver for the long haul. No longer are frantic apartment-seekers competing with the nightly rates of short-term stays.

While the regulations are unfortunate for those who are dependent on their Airbnb income, they instill a standard, which should have been in place to begin with. By treating Airbnb’s like the businesses they are, requiring them to file additional taxes, annually renew a business license and pay into the Canadian Pension Plan, the service is no longer a “casual” way to make money. While there are many listings for secure, clean and downright gorgeous spaces, there are just as many listings that put customers in atrocious living situations. Forcing users to go through additional “screening”, weeds out the good from the bad, helping protect customers from experiencing a night in a closet or a night in a hostel bunking with a dozen strangers.

This summer I stayed in a total of five Airbnbs over the course of three weeks. While my overall experience wasn’t traumatizing, it did made me reconsider booking through the service again. My cheapest Airbnb, located in Montreal, turned out to be the best out of the bunch. Toronto was a cubicle, despite the spacious-looking photos I had viewed prior to booking. New York was a nightmare, covered in a thick layer of dust, a roach infestation, no WiFi and black mould – not to mention that two out of three hosts attempted to scam me. Do a quick search for online articles trashing the company’s customer service, and you’ll easily pull up thousands of results. Though the service worked with me to “compensate” for the issues with one of my NY stays, when more troublesome problems arose out of another listing, I received no help whatsoever, despite my desperation for a safe place to stay. At the time of urgency, my cases were closed, without any help or reassurance given. These issues could have been easily avoided if the screening process was a lot more thorough.

Additionally, upon arrival to all of my destinations I was greeted with polite reminders from the hosts requesting that I be discreet with my presence in the buildings. Hosts currently continue to slide by, asking for their customers to say they are “visiting a friend” in order to avoid confrontation with neighbours and stratas. With massive amounts of strangers coming in and out of the buildings, leading to shared passwords and keys, it’s no surprise that home-sharing services pose a security threat.

While the new regulations work towards fixing these ongoing issues in Vancouver, they are still not applicable to most Vancouverites who are looking to venture out into the vacation abyss. Unfortunately, in the meantime, while we are waiting for the regulations to spread to other areas of the world, we’ll continue to be faced with disgust and disappointment.

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