Ontario has restricted the operations of online accommodation services such as Airbnb, issuing an order that limits short-term rentals to those “who are in need of housing during the emergency period.”
The province, which reined in its list of essential businesses last week as COVID-19 infections and deaths continued to rise, joins Quebec and several U.S. states and municipalities that have banned or restricted short-term rentals in the face of the pandemic.
The order under the province’s state of emergency applies to bookings made as of last Saturday. It was made as short-term rental hosts say business has all but completely collapsed.
Some have taken to advertising their units boasting of their extra cleaning procedures or pitching both downtown condos and rural cottages as COVID-19 “isolation” escapes. Health officials, and Premier Doug Ford, have warned city dwellers not to escape to cottage country, fearing small rural hospitals would not be able to handle the extra burden.
Under the province’s emergency order, hotels and motels are allowed to remain open and face no restrictions.
Fairbnb, an activist coalition founded with hotel union and industry backing that lobbied Toronto to bring in yet-to-be enforced new rules limiting short-term rentals, welcomed Ontario’s move.
The group had called on Mr. Ford last week to completely block Airbnb and other similar rentals, in order to stop people from travelling and spreading COVID-19.
Spokesman Thorben Wieditz said that while the order forbids non-essential tourism, it still allows for rentals to people who need housing, including health-care workers.
“I think they were careful to keep in a way for a host to actually rent out a place to a doctor or a nurse in Bobcaygeon or wherever. And I think that’s fair,” Mr. Wieditz said. “What you don’t see any more, we hope, is people travelling from Toronto to a place up north to self-isolate.”
He said COVID-19 had already prompted some Toronto condo buildings to ban short-term rentals. But he said his organization was still receiving complaints about loud parties in short-term rental suites as recently as last week, despite orders banning gatherings of more than five people.
Alex Dagg, a spokeswoman for Airbnb, said the company agreed that now was not the time for leisure travel. But she said Airbnb was pleased Ontario had still recognized that short-term rentals are needed for front-line responders or other workers requiring isolation.
The company has offered to reimburse hosts for 25 per cent of cancellation refunds – while also urging hosts to donate units or offer discounts for health-care workers.
Toronto actor and writer Marie Dame, who before the pandemic was busy renting out her two exposed-brick downtown lofts both for short-term rentals and photo shoots, said her business has completely evaporated.
This despite a recent ad offering one of her units as a “self-isolation sanity saver.” She said she hoped someone who needed a place away from vulnerable family members – or from a spouse who was driving them up the wall – would sign up for a discounted rate.
But she said most of her inquiries in the past few weeks have been from apparent scammers or people who didn’t respond to her requests for more information.
“I am not desperate,” Ms. Dame said. “But I am feeling it, and wondering about the future.”