THE HOT TAKE | Here’s how all of Niagara can fix its Airbnb problem –

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After news broke that there had been a double murder inside a swanky lakefront home in Fort Erie, I did what newspaper reporters do and walked out there to the police caution tape and started talking to neighbours.

But a funny thing kept happening. Nobody could tell me who owned the house. Nobody knew who actually lived there. Because, as it turned out, no one really “lived” there and no person “owned” the house.

After a lot of digging around through documents, I learned that the house was owned by a REIT, which, OMG, led me to ask WTF is a REIT? Well, FYI, it’s a “real estate investment trust,” which is “a company that owns or finances income-producing real estate across a range of property sectors.”

After a bunch more digging through documents, I found out the actual “owner” of this house in Fort Erie was about 15 dudes living in Brampton, whom nobody in the Fort Erie neighbourhood around the house had ever even met before. Very weird.

Why would a dozen guys buy a house two hours away from where they live, but never go there? The answer became more clear as I talked to more neighbours, and discovered the house was a notorious party mansion, listed for rent on Airbnb.

A few years earlier, Fort Erie had set up this whole complicated licensing system for short-term rentals, so my next step was to get some info from Town Hall. But of course, the REIT which owned the house never bothered to register, and was thus not part of the Town’s licensing system.

And therein lies the rub. Municipalities across Niagara have been struggling with the short-term rental problem for years. Well, most Niagara municipalities. The good ones. Places like Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake and Wainfleet, which have beautiful waterfronts with cottages and picturesque places you’d want to rent; they all struggle with this problem. Not so much, say, Welland, because who the heck wants to take a vacation to Welland. Nobody.

But places that don’t suck are trying to get a handle on the short-term rental problem, only to find out it’s nearly impossible. The first trick is defining what a short-term rental even is, which always turns out to be more complex than imagined. Oh well, it’s a short-term rental if it’s on the rental market for this many consecutive days, but only between these certain months, and only when the moon is waning but not waxing, and it has to have this many beds, but only if the backyard has this many lounge chairs.

Places that don’t suck are trying to get a handle on the short-term rental problem, only to find out it’s nearly impossible

If municipalities do manage to arrive at some haphazard definition of short-term rental, the next trick is finding them all. You can try and make registration voluntary, but then only the good guys will bother, while the problem-houses (like the aforementioned murder party mansion) won’t bother.

Then there’s the cost. Maintaining a registry and licensing system for every Airbnb inside your municipal borders gets very expensive, very quickly. So how do we fix this problem? The solution is actually quite simple.

Here’s how every Niagara municipality can fix their Airbnb problem: they can’t. That is to say, there is a fix, it just doesn’t lie with the municipalities, it needs to come from Airbnb.

The simple solution is this: don’t let REITs or corporations or any other silly non-humans use the platform for rentals. Because that’s what ruined everything. When Airbnb was just a place where Kathy from Wainfleet was renting out her cottage on a few weekends, everything was fine. Then came the corporations, and they ruined everything. Suddenly, cottage rental was a year-round business, with no oversight from the owners, because they didn’t care if the house turned into a party palace, because they lived 200 kilometres away.

Corporate ownership and full-time Airbnb rental is how you end up with a double murder in the middle of January inside an otherwise sleepy waterfront community in Fort Erie.

I should note here that the notorious murder mansion in Fort Erie is no longer listed on Airbnb. During my reporting on this story back in 2021, lawyers from Airbnb contacted me to explain that they had revoked the Airbnb license for that particular house.

Yes, very well done guys. The house where two young women were murdered is no longer allowed to rent on Airbnb. A round of applause for Airbnb suspending rental privileges after a double murder. Seems to me, had they cracked down on this sort of predatory real estate practice a little earlier, that 20-year-old Juliana Pannunzio and 18-year-old Christina Crooks might still be alive today.

James Culic is forever haunted by some of the gruesome stories he reported on. Find out how to yell at him at the bottom of the page, or send us a sharply worded eviction notice, er, letter to the editor.

This post was originally published on this site

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