Housing advocates are calling on the City of Fredericton to enforce a bylaw already on its books that could improve the city’s growing housing crisis.
According to the website AirDNA.co, there are 184 active short-term rentals in the City of Fredericton, 135 of them “entire homes.”
Housing advocates believe that if Fredericton were to enforce its own bylaw, prohibiting short-term rentals, that many of these units could be quickly turned into more permanent housing.
Matthew Hayes with the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights says that the fastest way for City Council to address the affordable housing crisis is to remove homes from Airbnb and return them to the long-term rental market. “City Council could effectively double its vacancy rate just by returning those 135 or so units to the long-term market,” Hayes said. “There is no faster and cheaper way to immediately add housing to address this crisis than by enforcing bylaws against short-term rentals.”
Hayes also noted that over 3.3 per cent of one-bedroom apartments in Fredericton’s rental universe are currently renting on short-term platforms. “Those homes in central parts of the Plat are affordable homes for people on fixed incomes, for seniors, students, and members of our community. Removing them from the rental market helps to inflate rents.”
Angus Fletcher, a member of the anti-poverty organization ACORN NB and the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, agrees.
“I am seeing more than a hundred homes on Airbnb right now. We know we’re in an affordability crisis, we know that short-term rentals contribute to a shortage in housing and we know they are growing fast as an industry,” says Fletcher.
Fletcher points to Charlottetown as an example of how the sector could be regulated at a municipal level. Charlottetown recently limited the establishment of short-term rentals to primary residences and prohibited apartments from being used as Airbnbs.
Likewise, for more than a year, Fredericton has had a bylaw limiting Airbnbs to owner-occupied dwellings. However, unlike Charlottetown, the bylaw is not being proactively enforced and instead acts as a complaint driven process.
Jael Duarte, a lawyer and Tenants Advocate with the New Brunswick Coalition for Tenants Rights, argues the city should enforce its bylaw to protect tenants. She explained that “to enforce a bylaw, the city doesn’t need to wait for a complaint, they can enforce it because they need to.”
Duarte asserts that leaving the complaints to tenants creates confusion. “How can a complaint-based system work when the proper place for a tenant to complain is the residential tribunal.”
Fredericton Mayor Kate Rogers believes that Fredericton’s small size would allow the city to easily enforce the regulation of short-term rental accommodations.
“The beauty is that there is a map available that shows the short term rental units that are available on, say, Airbnb and, given the size of our city, we are often able to figure out which units are in buildings that are owner-occupied.”
Airbnbs contribute to Fredericton’s housing crisis
Rogers says the effect of Airbnb on the housing market has intensified since November 2021, when the city completed its housing needs assessment. That study painted a bleak picture of Fredericton’s housing needs. It found that the city required at least 2,450 additional units at low- or below-market prices and 1,500 non-market rent-geared-to-income units.
Rogers’ claims are supported by a 2019 Economic Policy Institute study. Their analysis showed that, “the introduction and expansion of Airbnb into U.S. cities and cities around the world carries large potential economic benefits and costs [and] the costs to renters and local jurisdictions likely exceed the benefits to travellers and property owners.”
This argument is echoed by the Tenant Advocate. “It is clear that Airbnb is taking many units out of our housing stock and the removal of those previously available apartment units has a trickle-down effect on our community,” says Duarte.
Rogers believes that the province and municipalities will need to work together to regulate short term rentals. She added, “regulating short-term rentals may also be beneficial to the hospitality and accommodation sector.”
Businesses in Fredericton unaware of bylaw
M2 Ventures, a company operating a short-term rental management company, currently has 15 Airbnb units listed on its website, owned by his clients.
The company owner Rob MacDougal said M2 was unaware of the existing bylaw.
MacDougal acknowledged that some of M2’s clients may not comply with the existing bylaw. But MacDougal hoped that the city might amend the bylaw. He believed that their units offer a unique experience for travellers not wanting to stay in hotels. MacDougal said that during the pandemic their business expanded, allowing them to offer a better service and employ more people.
Robert Sheidow is an organizer with Solidarité Fredericton.