The coronavirus pandemic crisis has impacted the lives of many. The crisis is especially devastating for Ontarians living on lower incomes, who have lost their income but are left paying unaffordable rents. However, there is a silver lining amidst the chaos of the pandemic: the sudden availability of new rental units that were formerly Airbnb units, especially in Ontario’s major urban centres. Tenants looking for a new place to rent are increasingly noticing that many rental units newly on the market look like former Airbnbs.
The halt to the tourism industry has dried up the bookings for most short-term rentals. The Ontario government recently banned short-term rentals like Airbnb – a positive move to ensure the health and safety of our neighborhoods. Commercial Airbnb hosts – those with multiple listings of entire homes on Airbnb – can no longer justify hoarding empty homes to accommodate tourists. Support from Airbnb for its hosts has been limited as well. The “ordinary” mom and pop hosts that the company exploited time and again to hoist up its public image and build its massive wealth aren’t getting any help from the company.
We are saddened to witness the economic pressures that this pandemic crisis has put on people from all walks of life. But we have little sympathy for commercial hosts who racked up wealth at the expense of the rest of our communities, exacerbating Ontario’s affordable housing crisis. Now, the many residential units that were taken off the housing market to become ghost hotels are slowly coming back on the long-term housing market. While this may only be temporary, it is nevertheless welcomed.
Can Tenants Face Evictions If Renting an Airbnb?
If you are a tenant looking to live long-term in one of these former Airbnb units, you may wonder what your legal rights are in such a situation. Is the unit a short-term rental or a long-term one? Can you be evicted from your home once the pandemic is over and the Airbnb hosts decide to operate their ghost hotels once again?
The law that applies to most rental housing in Ontario is known as the Residential Tenancies Act or the RTA. It sets the rules that tenants and landlords must follow. If you pay rent for an apartment, room, or house, and you do not use the same kitchen or bathroom as the owner or a close relative of the owner, the RTA probably applies to you.
But your new landlord (aka former Airbnb host) might claim that you are exempt from RTA protection if you, the renter, have another residential address. This landlord can argue that your intent for the use of the unit was as temporary accommodation, to quarantine or self-isolate and without an agreement that is clear about your status, you might be forced out.
So, if you find a listing (on Kijiji, Craigslist, etc.) and you plan to continue to live there once social distancing rules are eased, we recommend that you insist on signing an Ontario Standard Lease which can be downloaded here. The Standard Lease was introduced to ensure that both landlords and tenants were agreeing to legally sound and easy to understand contracts. Signing a Standard Lease shows that you are not planning to use the home for short-term rental purposes. Having a legal contract like the Standard Lease provides you with legal protections as a tenant.
Do not, under any circumstances, allow this landlord (aka former Airbnb host) to convince you to complete the rental transaction on the Airbnb Platform or other online rental platforms. Tell the landlord that you will sign a lease through email or in-person (make sure to keep a healthy distance away), and pay for your rent via cheque, e-transfer, or cash payment (ask for proof of payment via a receipt). If they insist to complete the transaction on a short-term rental platform, you can remind the landlord that the Province has banned short-term rentals for the time being.
If your new rental is in a condominium, you may have added protection from a claim that you are not a tenant. Many condominiums have rules prohibiting short-term rentals in their building. The landlord cannot argue that you are a short-term guest if that is not allowed in the building. If you can, try to get a copy of the short-term rental rules in the condominium to support your case that you are a tenant protected by the RTA.
If you are a low-income tenant and need legal supports, please contact your community legal clinic.
ACTO is a member of the Fairbnb Coalition.