Tenants who occupy the houses mostly on weekends, renting them through Airbnb and other popular websites, are creating noise, garbage on the street and parking issues, say the neighbours.
They complain of finding strangers smoking and chatting on their doorsteps. One resident said she has been afraid to speak up at times. There was enough concern about short-term rentals in the neighbourhood that more than 50 people attended a meeting in the spring organized by the Winchester Park Residents Association.
The properties’ owner suggested that neighbours have harassed tenants who were behaving in a reasonable manner. Even cleaning in the late afternoon drew complaints, said Roman Neyolov.
Bleecker St. is a particularly egregious example of what can happen when houses operate as hotels, says the chair of a new union-led coalition that is fighting to have the home rental business regulated.
“It’s alarming that these hosts of multiple listings would target a city block and try to buy up all of these units and, essentially run a ghost hotel in a traditionally residential neighbourhood,” said Lis Pimentel, president of the hotel workers union, which started Fairbnb in Toronto.
“Unfortunately we don’t think it’s that unusual. We’re starting to notice that other areas may be targeted in this particular way,” she said.
When Jan Coles moved to Bleecker St. more than four years ago, she wasn’t bothered by two B&Bs, although she thought the properties belonged to snowbirds because the walks weren’t shoveled.
Now things have escalated, she wrote in an email to the Toronto Star.
“It is like living in the entertainment district. Large groups of people are constantly lingering on my property, on my porch, in front of my door at all hours and high volumes of noise,” said Coles, who shares a wall with one of the rentals and has asked the tenants to pipe down.
“Although, I am always polite, I have encountered a great deal of hostility on some occasions and it makes me fearful,” she wrote to the city’s executive committee in January.
Coles said her own long-term tenant and a neighbour were driven out by the noise. When an injury put Coles on crutches, she couldn’t park near her house because the street was clogged with non-residents’ cars.
Brian Kellow, who lives in a co-op across the road, said he’s worried that a lack of permanent residents will hurt local small businesses because the tenants and homeowner “have no skin in the game,” on Bleecker.
“Half the street is dark Monday to Wednesday and then at night on the weekends it’s just raging parties. We have had a tour bus block the one way street and unload,” he said.
“I care about my community. This is creating this whole new class of housing. We could end up clearing out huge swatches of the neighbourhood,” said Kellow.
Fairbnb is researching regulations that have worked in other cities to curb some of the worst effects of Airbnb and its competitors, said Pimentel.
“They’re not hotel rooms. They’re not paying commercial property tax. They’re not providing good, unionized jobs. They’re not paying HST necessarily or we’re not able to track that,” she said.
According to Fairbnb, short-term rentals account for about 20 per cent of the hotel market in Toronto. There are about 9,000 listings for this type of accommodation in the GTA.
Nobody really objects to people renting out a room in their home. But those are the minority of rentals, said Pimentel.
Sixty per cent of listings are for an entire home. More than 1,000 Airbnb hosts had two or more listings. That’s 40 per cent of the total, she said.
The owner of the five Bleecker St. houses says he uses different websites at different times to advertise his “executive” properties.
The Star has confirmed that the listings were pulled from Airbnb earlier this year after complaints.
But Neyolov of Thornhill, said he’s not running party houses and his tenants have been harassed.
“I’d say 80 per cent of the people who stay in our houses, it’s a family coming for different purposes to Toronto, like weddings, for reunions, for anniversaries, family events. This is our preferable customer. We state about the parties, no parties for anyone,” he said.
Although, he said, sometimes renters lie or misrepresent themselves.
“We are selecting reasonable, responsible people. We do not allow partying. It’s stated in the rental conditions and we advise about municipal bylaw - please respect neighbours. We don’t take young guys,” he said.
Two of the houses listed online in July were advertised for $550 a night and could accommodate at least 10 people.
Neyolov said 10 is the maximum he accepts per rental but sometimes a larger family will rent two houses and visit back and forth.
Neyolov said the former neighbour would call police about noise. The police would show up and find the tenants eating dinner, apologize and leave.
He says it was the police who suggested he post “no trespassing” signs on the homes and advise the neighbour not to go on his property. He’s left the signs up to discourage people from rummaging the garbage for cans and bottles.
Neyolov, who also runs a business renting vacation properties in Quebec, said he would welcome regulation in Toronto. He suggested that Quebec’s CITQ system of registering tourist accommodation, from hotels, to B&Bs and private homes, would ensure that properties like his are inspected annually, rated and certified. Property owners pay a fee for that designation.
Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department has investigated several complaints related to two Bleecker St. houses but found no contraventions of the city’s zoning bylaw.
As short-term rentals proliferate, including cases like Bleecker, “Our by-laws need to catch up quickly,” said Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale).
The city voted in January to look at options for designating ‘temporary accommodation rental’ as a specified use under the zoning bylaw.
As of last week,city staff were still in the process of hiring a consultant to research how other cities are treating short-term rentals and advise on rules that might work in Toronto. An interim report is expected in the fall with a final report next year.
McConnell said she doesn’t want to pre-empt that process but she expects that properites being legally used as rentals would be taxed at a commercial, rather than residential rate.
“It is possible,” she said, “to find a balance between prohibiting what is essentially the introduction of new hotel and motel uses in our neighbourhoods through the accumulation of single-family homes, while still allowing for individual owners to rent out their space.”
Author: Tess Kalinowski