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Airbnb ‘pirates’ are hijacking real permits to post bad listings — and some Torontonians are fed up

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Toronto Airbnb host Allan Eisen says he’s at his wits’ end with the City of Toronto after his Airbnb listing was taken down 16 times in the last seven months.

At least one of those instances is because someone used his permit number, which is accessible on the city’s website, to post an unregistered listing.

When his listing was taken offline last month, Eisen says he was told it was because he’s being investigated for violating the 180-day rule, which prohibits short-term rentals from being booked for more than 180 nights in a year. But Eisen says he makes sure his Airbnb stays within the limit.

“What I heard from [the bylaw officer] was absolutely mind-blowing. I was shocked when he told me that somebody else was using my license number,” he said.

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Asked if that could be pushing his listing over the 180-mark, Eisen says the bylaw officer told him, “Yes, that could be the case.'”

Allan Eisen rents out his primary residence in downtown Toronto when he's away from the city. He says the city has removed the Airbnb listing 16 times in the last five months.
Allan Eisen rents out his primary residence in downtown Toronto when he’s away from the city. He says the city has removed the Airbnb listing 16 times in the last five months. (Submitted by Allan Eismen)

All 6,248 short-term operator registration numbers and the first three digits of the corresponding postal code are publicly available on the City of Toronto’s website. The city says it’s aware of instances in which people are accessing the numbers and using them to post unregistered listings on Airbnb, which is leading to some legitimate listings being taken down as the city tries to enforce compliance.

The director of Fairbnbhosts.ca, which describes itself as a not-for-profit that works to protect the interests of Toronto’s registered Airbnb operators, says a city staff member told him they are chasing “pirates” and using a “whack-a-mole” approach to remove the unregistered listings.

“It’s a very big concern,” George Emerson said.

Meanwhile, some hosts are still having issues that CBC Toronto first reported on in the summer; when hosts and guests were scrambling after bookings were abruptly cancelled and listings taken down due to minor discrepancies in how hosts’ addresses were listed on their city registration versus their Airbnb profile. Hosts say the bookings are no longer being cancelled, but their listings are still being removed.

In Toronto, a short-term rental operator can only rent out their principal residence and must register with the city.

City says rules protect Toronto’s rental stock

Eisen’s listing was most recently taken down last week. An email from the city claims his address isn’t an exact match, but Eisen is adamant it’s correct. He says each time his listing has been removed, he makes the changes required by the city, but then it happens again.

“In the meantime, you’re out of business,” Eisen said. “There shouldn’t be such an aggressive approach to just a blanket ‘let’s just delist all these listings.'”

Executive director of the city’s Municipal Licensing and Standards division Carleton Grant says hosts’ information must be accurate so the city can verify listings.

Carleton Grant, the city's executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards, says the cases involving people using real permit numbers to post fake or unregistered listings are complex.
Carleton Grant, the city’s executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards, says the cases involving people using real permit numbers to post fake or unregistered listings are complex. (Yan Theoret/CBC)

“The rules are in place to protect the housing stock and the rental stock, but allow people to participate in home sharing,” Grant said in an interview.

In a statement, Airbnb’s regional Canadian lead Nathan Rotman says the company understands some hosts are frustrated with the city’s enforcement practices.

“We continue to be in active discussions with the city to ensure that registered listings are not inadvertently removed by City of Toronto bylaw officers,” Rotman said.

Concerns ‘bad actors’ are skirting rules

Eisen says he’s alarmed that anyone can access his permit number on the city’s website and says they should be removed.

“This isn’t a hack. The city’s openly giving this information to people by just putting it on a website. It’s very shocking,” he said.

While an operator’s registration number, city ward and first three letters of postal codes associated with properties are available; full addresses are not visible.

Grant says having the information on the city’s open data portal is required by the city. It shows the government is being transparent and allows the city and others to ensure listings are legitimate, he says.

An example of the message hosts are receiving when the city removes an Airbnb listing.
An example of the message hosts are receiving when the city removes an Airbnb listing. (Submitted by Emil Glassbourg)

But Emerson says it’s worrying people who aren’t licensed are skirting the rules by using someone’s else’s permit.

“If the city is trying to crack down on bad actors, why are they enabling the same bad actors?” he said

“We are small, small business operators and we have been vetted and checked out by the city, and therefore we place reliance on the city to be able to list these properties.”

As part of ongoing compliance audits by the city, 2,626 Airbnb listings were taken down on November 10; 65 per cent of them removed due to missing or inaccurate information or wording that didn’t match; 32 per cent for breaking the 180-day rule and the remaining three per cent for having expired permits, according to the city.

Grant says hundreds of listings are posted daily by people who are not registered with the city and that the city works with short-term rental companies to remove those operators and their listings. He says it’s hard to say exactly how many registered operators’ listings were taken down as a result of people using their permit numbers.

That’s because he says many hosts whose listings were removed had incorrect information on their listings in addition to their permit being used by someone else.

“These [cases] are complicated, they are complex,” he said. “We need to do the necessary legwork to understand what’s happened and then take appropriate action.”

Asked whether the city would consider removing the permit numbers from the public website, Grant says since only a small percentage of hosts are affected, the numbers must justify the change.

He says the city will continue to look into ways to stop unlicensed people from posting listings using other hosts’ permits.

‘Beyond overkill,’ says advocate

Emerson says it’s nonsensical that the city can shut down a listing due to something as simple as the word ‘street’ and short form ‘st’ being seen as not matching.

“It’s beyond overkill,” he said.

Grant says while the details may seem minor, they’re necessary to verify whether a registration is legitimate.

“We equate it to getting on an airplane and you show your ticket and your passport and they have to match,” he said.

Only about 15 per cent, or more than 400, of the listings that were taken down last month are back online, while the rest, like Emil Glassbourg’s, are still being investigated.

Emil Glassbourg says his Airbnb listing was taken down last month and he's still waiting for it to be active again.
Emil Glassbourg says his Airbnb listing was taken down last month and he’s still waiting for it to be active again. (Farrah Merali/CBC)

He discovered his listing was taken offline because his postal code was off by one digit and his property was listed in the wrong category.

“I’m in a financial predicament, which could have easily been solved,” said Glassbourg, who says his only current source of income is his Airbnb listing.

He’s now waiting for an inspection on December 28th and says he hopes his listing will be back up then, but knows it’s not guaranteed.

“Now I’m out of business without an income,” he said.

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Inflation in Canada: Finance ministers meet

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TORONTO – The two big spending pressures on the federal government right now are health care and the global transition to a clean economy, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday.
After hosting an in-person meeting with the provincial and territorial finance ministers, Freeland said U.S. President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which includes electric-vehicle incentives that favour manufacturers in Canada and Mexico as well as the U.S., has changed the playing field when it comes to the global competition for capital.

“I cannot emphasize too strongly how much I believe that we need to seize the moment and build the clean economy of the 21st century,” Freeland said during a news conference held at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

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“This is a huge economic opportunity.”

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Canada needs to invest in the transition in order to potentially have an outsized share in the economy of the future, she said, or it risks being left behind.

This year in particular will be an important year for attracting capital to Canada, she said, calling for the provinces and territories to chip in.

“This is a truly historic, once-in-a-generation economic moment and it will take a team Canada effort to seize it.”

At the same time, Freeland spoke of the need for fiscal restraint amid economic uncertainty.

“We know that one of the most important things the federal government can do to help Canadians today is to be mindful of our responsibility not to pour fuel on the fire of inflation,” she said.

Freeland said these two major spending pressures, which were among the topics prioritized at Friday’s meeting, come at a time of a global economic slowdown which poses restraint on government spending.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to meet with the premiers Feb. 7 to discuss a long-awaited deal on health-care spending. The provinces have been asking for increases to the health transfer to the tune of billions of dollars.

Freeland said it’s clear that the federal government needs to invest in health care and reiterated the government’s commitment to doing so but would not say whether she thinks the amount the provinces are asking for in increased health transfers is feasible.

“It’s time to see the numbers,” Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard said Friday afternoon, in anticipation of the Feb. 7 meeting.

The meeting of the finance ministers comes at a tense time for many Canadian consumers, with inflation still running hot and interest rates much higher than they were a year ago.

The ministers also spoke with Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem Friday and discussed the economic outlook for Canada and the world, said Freeland.

“We’re very aware of the uncertainty in the global economy right now,” said Freeland. “Inflation is high and interest rates are high.”

“Things are tough for a lot of Canadians and a lot of Canadian families today and at the federal level, this is a time of real fiscal constraint.”

The Bank of Canada raised its key interest rate again last week, bringing it to 4.5 per cent, but signalled it’s taking a pause to let the impact of its aggressive hiking cycle sink in.

The economy is showing signs of slowing, but inflation was still high at 6.3 per cent in December, with food prices in particular remaining elevated year over year.

Interest rates have put a damper on the housing market, sending prices and sales downward for months on end even as the cost of renting went up in 2022.

Meanwhile, the labour market has remained strong, with the unemployment rate nearing record lows in December at five per cent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.

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Federal government is in a tight fiscal environment, Freeland says ahead of health talks – CBC.ca

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Federal government is in a tight fiscal environment, Freeland says ahead of health talks  CBC.ca

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Suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over Canadian airspace: sources – CTV News

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  1. Suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over Canadian airspace: sources  CTV News
  2. Canadian pilots were warned of ‘untethered balloon’ amid China surveillance concerns  Global News
  3. U.S. military shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon off Carolina coast  CBC.ca

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