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Watery hummus and Airbnb rentals

I’m on an American Airlines flight right now reading the New Yorker. I’m thankful that I brought a few back issues with me because it’s distracting me from the semi-deplorable conditions found in the rear of the plane.

The TV in front of me is broken and they have run out of everything that could be considered edible. Instead of the humble wrap I wanted, I was offered a soggy box of vegetable crackers and hummus. The hummus came in a small toothpaste-like tube that squirted out some kind of watery substance. Not yet sure what it is because I stopped eating it. Thankfully the lady behind me managed to smuggle on a cheeseburger and a basket of onion rings. So I’ve been subsisting on her fumes for the last hour.

In any event, onion rings and watery hummus are not actually what I want to talk about today. Last week’s New Yorker has an essay in it all about the gig economy. One of the sub-stories is about a woman named Caitlin Connors (real name?) who rents a 3 bedroom duplex with a friend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Her and her roommate’s goal is to rent out their place on Airbnb for at least a week each month. Often during this week they’ll take off traveling somewhere (net net they seem to come out ahead this way), but sometimes they’ll just decamp and stay with friends in the city.

One of their criteria when they were initially looking to rent a place was that it had to be “Airbnb-able.” That’s partially what drew them to Williamsburg. They knew that tourists would see the area as trendy and want to stay there. So far that investment thesis has proven true, as their plan allows them to cover their $4,000 per month rent.

The reason I mention all of this — the gig economy, not cheeseburgers — is because I recently attended a panel discussion about the current state of purpose-built rentals in Toronto. At the end of the discussion, somebody in the audience asked about how they’re dealing with Airbnb and each of the panelists responded in exactly the same way. Essentially: we closely monitor our buildings and crack down on it the best we can.

My view about these sorts of things — Airbnb, Uber, and so on — is that they’re not going away so we should try and figure out how to accommodate and work with them. But how exactly should that play out?

Do you get rid of the 6 month minimum lease term that is commonly applied to condo buildings in this city and let people do whatever the hell they want? Do you create rules, so that guests can, for instance, rent a room in a place but not rent an entire apartment? Or do developers need to start creating dedicated Airbnb floors and buildings? (It’s already happening in some cities.)

I believe that there are ways to manage the negative externalities potentially associated with short-term rentals. But I would love to get all of your temperatures on this. Are you a firm yes or no to Airbnb in multi-family buildings, or are you a qualified yes with the right rules and regulations in place? Would you have an issue sharing a wall with an Airbnb suite? 

Let’s talk it out in the comments. 

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