Illegal Airbnb Owners In Quebec Are Cheating The System To Get Around The Law

Suspicious policy numbers abound on the app.

Staff Writer
A row of Montreal townhouses. Right: The Airbnb app on a smartphone.

A row of Montreal townhouses. Right: The Airbnb app on a smartphone.

After a fatal fire drew more attention to rampant illegal Airbnbs across Quebec, newly enforced regulations are proving to be less effective than legislators — and housing advocates — might have hoped.

Following the deadly blaze, Airbnb committed to removing listings that did not feature a policy number, a six-digit code proving the hosts had registered their properties as tourist accommodations with the Quebec government. However, even a cursory glance at the app shows plenty of hosts using a phony policy number: 123456, as reported by CTV News.

MTL Blog was able to independently confirm this fact in under 15 minutes, with listings from a variety of hosts showing "123456" as their policy number.

Two Airbnb listings featuring a suspicious policy number: 123456.Two Airbnb listings featuring a suspicious policy number: 123456.Willa Holt | MTL Blog

But that's not the only activity about which housing advocates are raising the alarm.

Montreal housing activist group the Regroupement des comités logement et associations de locataires du Québec (RCLALQ) says Airbnb is notifying hosts that they can legally switch their accommodation type from short-term to long-term rentals of longer than 31 days, which aren't subject to the same registration rules.

Contacted by MTL Blog, a spokesperson for Airbnb didn't deny the existence of this messaging. Instead, they emphasized that the government's tourist accommodation permit acquisition system is "unfortunately cumbersome," adding that Airbnb has "long encouraged the government to update the registration requirements."

The RCLALQ cites data from the activist group Inside Airbnb that purports to show "that the percentage of long-term accommodations jumped from 17% to 60% of the total number of listings" in a matter of days.

In a Twitter thread, Inside Airbnb detailed some of these findings, including that the number of short-term rentals plummeted in the aftermath of the regulatory crackdown — although the number of long-term rentals increased by over 30%.

Inside Airbnb's founder, data activist Murray Cox, said in a statement shared with RCLALQ that they "question why a short-term rental platform like Airbnb has shifted these unregistered properties into a legal grey area, where hosts are not subject to short-term rental laws and are unlikely to follow provincial and local housing laws for tenants."

"We call on the province to push forward urgently to make platforms like Airbnb legally responsible for the properties on their site by introducing platform accountability regulations, and addressing other problems and loopholes with CITQ [tourist accommodation] licenses for short-term rentals," Cox concluded.

This article's left-hand cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Willa Holt
Staff Writer
Willa Holt is a Creator for MTL Blog, often found covering weird and wonderful real estate and local politics from her home base in Montreal.