They fell into operating Airbnbs when they lost their jobs. Then they fell in love with the hospitality business and the value of the service they provide to Toronto residents and visitors to the city, two multi-unit Airbnb hosts have testified at an appeal tribunal into the city’s long-term rental rules.
It takes hard work and a hefty financial investment to run multiple short-term rentals, two operators told the provincial Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) on Tuesday.
Both landlords, George Mazomenos and Clarence Westhaver, said their businesses would run afoul of the zoning bylaw restricting short-term rentals if the tribunal allows the new rules to take effect. Neither landlord lives in the homes they rent.
Under the city’s approved rules, Airbnb-type rentals would be limited to stays of fewer than 28 days. Landlords would be restricted to only renting their principal residence and they would not be allowed to rent secondary suites on a short-term basis. Landlords would be able to rent their entire principal residence for up to 180 days a year or up to three separate rooms as often as they like. Only long-term tenants living in secondary units as a principal residence would be allowed to offer them as short-term accommodation.
A witness for the city testified before the LPAT last week that short-term rentals frequently draw nuisance complaints about noise, parking and trash. But on Tuesday, the landlords told the tribunal that they feel an obligation to keep complaints by neighbours to a minimum and that their homes are often better kept than long-term rentals or even some homeowners’ dwellings.
“There’s this misconception about Airbnb hosts make a lot of money,” said Mazomenos, an Airbnb superhost who rents out the nanny suite in his own Humewood Dr. home and another neighbouring house.
“Running an Airbnb or short-term rental is a lot of work. Yes, you can make more income than the traditional (rental), but the increase comes with a lot of work, expenses and you need to be prepared that the income is inconsistent,” he said.
Communicating with guests, handling bookings, cleaning and upkeep between stays are all part of the work. Because the success of the business is based on guests’ online reviews, cleanliness is critical to keeping a five-star rating.
“With traditional rental, you don’t need to run anything or upkeep the landscaping or curb appeal. You simply collect the monthly checks, said Mazomenos.
Westhaver, the owner of Westhaver Boutique Residences, said he rents five properties he markets as luxury rentals with fully stocked kitchens and upscale amenities.
“Everyone is looking for a neighbourhood experience. They don’t want to stay in the financial district,” he said of his tenants.
Westhaver told the tribunal he spent $400,000 on the interior and exterior renovations of his Grace St. property in Little Italy and $250,000 on another house on Crawford St.
He said he gets along well with the neighbours and there has never been a single complaint about his rentals — which he mostly rents for more than 28 days even though he markets them on short-term rental sites like Airbnb, as well as his own website. Airbnb allows him to fill in the gaps between longer-term visitors with short-term renters, said Westhaver.
If the bylaw takes effect, he said he might target longer stay corporate accommodation that exceeds the city’s planned 28-day limit.
Michael Manette, a private planner, who appeared at the tribunal on behalf of Westhaver, said that whether a rental is short-term or long-term, both fit within the city’s permitted residential uses.
In response to a question by the landlords’ lawyer Jason Cherniak, Manette said short-term rentals are inconsistent with the culture of residential neighbourhoods.
“In my experience, in many cases, the quality and the maintaining of the properties are superior to those you might find throughout a neighbourhood of regular owners or renters. … In some neighbourhoods you could have what they call, ‘the neighbour from Hell,’ the one that nobody can control, that lets his grass grow, that throws the garbage around and those are the ones that are constantly calling the city to fix up their properties,” he said.
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“The people who have to constantly maintain a certain level of quality in order for their business to be maintained to rent out their units, they have to have a higher standard or they won’t be able to compete in the market,” said Manette.
“It’s unfair these concerns or nuisances are being attributed to (short-term rentals) because the land use is no different to the neighbour next door who has a single-family residential dwelling, who may or may not look after their property, as well as the person who’s renting it out short or long-term.”