To Airbnb, or not to Airbnb – that is the question

The Best Western Roehampton Hotel and the Toronto Don Valley Hotel & Suites are the closest hotels to Leaside
The Best Western Roehampton Hotel and the Toronto Don Valley Hotel & Suites are the closest hotels to Leaside

In November’s issue, my column discussed five possible ideas for a new building on the one-acre site at the northeast corner of Laird Dr. and Wicksteed Ave. that up until recently was the home of Four Seasons Auto Collision.

Whether it’s old age creeping in, I completely forgot to include boutique hotel among the list of five possibilities, and that got me thinking about the highly contentious issue of Airbnb.

Unless you’re living without internet or television it’s impossible not to be aware of the problems cities, communities, and neighbourhoods are facing as a result of the highly successful short-term rental housing website that’s met the needs of over 60 million guests worldwide since its founding in 2008.

In finance, Airbnb is what they call a “unicorn” because it’s valued at more than $1 billion. In fact, it’s the second-most valuable privately held tech company in the U.S. at $41 billion. Needless to say, it’s got the financial wherewithal to legally fight any community that sees fit to do battle with it.

In New York City, Airbnb’s biggest market, not only is it illegal to rent out an apartment for less than 30 days, now illegal for property owners to advertise on Airbnb. Those violating this rule face fines upwards of $7,500. Ouch.

Airbnb first appeared in Leaside Life this past June when the Curious Idler highlighted a home at 62 Vanderhoof Ave. that was being rented out on the home-sharing site for $250 per night or $300 per weekend. For many cash-strapped homeowners, it’s a great way to supplement your income when out of town. It used to be Airbnb’s charm.

Unfortunately, the house in question is being rented on a short-term basis until the owners get the go-ahead to tear down the house and build a new, more expensive version. In the meantime, nearby residents have faced raucous house parties hosted by renters who will gladly pay $250 for one night in order to hold a party somewhere other than their own home.

Airbnb has become the vehicle of choice for professional investors who are opting to rent out their residential investment properties through the site as opposed to finding long-term tenants because the money is often better and the landlord and tenant issues a non-starter.

Anyone who’s owned a rental property in this city knows how bad some tenants can be about basic cleanliness, consideration of other tenants and simple things like paying the rent on time. And don’t get me started on the deadbeats who abuse Ontario’s Landlord and Tenant Act. The cards are definitely stacked in the tenants’ favour.

From a business perspective, I completely understand the desire to maximize your profits while minimizing your headaches and out-of-pocket expenses. By the same token, however, if you choose to go down this path you should have to meet the same standards hotels are required to meet. Whether you’re renting your house out for one day a year or 365, it’s a business and you should be treated like any other business operating in the hospitality industry in this city.

Now, let’s get back to Leaside and the boutique hotel idea.

There are exactly two hotels within six kilometres of my apartment, according to Google: The Best Western Roehampton Hotel at Eglinton Ave. and Mt. Pleasant Rd. and the Toronto Don Valley Hotel & Suites. Together, they offer 462 rooms for your out-of-town guests.

That might seem like a lot, but when you consider that the population of Ward 26 is 65,000 (2011 census) and you’ve got almost 25,000 private households here.

We used to have a third hotel in the area. For those who can remember, the Inn on the Park was a stone’s throw away and had over 500 rooms when it was built in 1971. Today, if it were still around, it would be a great help to out-of-town visitors looking to enjoy some relaxation time away from their dear Leaside friends.

Barring that, I suppose the next best alternative other than sticking your visitors on the couch is sending them to a downtown hotel or into the waiting arms of Airbnb.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem using Airbnb, but then I’ve never rented a place in Toronto. Apparently, it can be a real adventure. The Globe and Mail’s Facts & Arguments feature recently had a reader submission highlighting the difficulties one world traveler was having finding decent short-term Airbnb rental accommodations in Toronto.

Whether it’s because we don’t have enough hotels in this city — 43,000 rooms in GTA compared to 80,000 in similarly-sized Houston — and people are desperate for somewhere to stay, or Toronto’s Airbnb hosts are simply greedy, is hard to know.

What I do know is that Airbnb, like UberX, isn’t going away, so we’d better figure out how to make this work because if enough people get the hint that Toronto’s too expensive to visit, or too difficult to find good accommodations, they’ll simply go elsewhere and that’s definitely not good for the local economy — including Leaside’s.

About Will Ashworth 51 Articles
Will Ashworth contributes to Leaside Life.