July 25, 2024

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Victoria goes to court to ban company from managing Airbnbs anywhere in city

4 min read

The City of Victoria is going to court to permanently ban a local property management company from running short-term rentals anywhere in the city, claiming the business has been advertising and operating Airbnbs in a popular area of the downtown core without the proper licences.

Court documents say Amala Vacation Rental Solutions and its CEO are still managing four condos — all within a few blocks of each other in the heart of the provincial capital’s tourist area — as short-term Airbnbs without permission, despite having been written more than a dozen tickets over the years.  

The alleged violations “demonstrate that the respondents are unwilling to refrain from the unlawful acts and are a clear case of flouting the City’s bylaws,” read one of four petitions filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The filings are the latest legal fights over short-term rental laws in B.C. Amala’s CEO, Angela Mason, is one of hundreds of property owners and managers currently taking the provincial government to court over new laws which they say could ruin their businesses.

In an email Friday, Mason said an inquiry from CBC News was the first she’d heard of the city’s court action against her. She said any property under Amala management “in 2024 has held the appropriate licenses and adhered to building bylaws and its rental use.”

“This is not the first time our company has been bullied by the city’s [short-term rental] bylaw department. This is not a group that is interested in working with business licence holders to find solutions.”

Downtown hotspot

The city’s court documents list four Airbnbs: a studio on Pandora Avenue, a two-bedroom condo on Herald Street and a pair of one-bedroom condos on Yates Street and Fisgard Street. They’re within roughly one kilometre of each other; two are across an alley from each other.

The area is a hotspot for visitors, packed with shops, bookstores, restaurants and cocktail bars within walking distance of landmarks like the Inner Harbour and the B.C. Legislature. 

Amala, which Mason founded in 2016, manages short-term rentals for property owners in the downtown Victoria area. 

Short-term rentals, like those listed on Airbnb or Vrbo, have been restricted under Victoria bylaws since 2018. Property owners can’t rent homes for fewer than 30 days without a short-term rental licence from the city. 

The city’s court documents say Amala does not have licences for the four downtown condos — plus, the city say they are in a zoning area that doesn’t allow any short-term rentals.

The city says it has been trying to teach Amala about its rules since around 2020. Its petitions say Mason signed a letter in September admitting she’d broken the bylaws after the city wrote her more than a dozen tickets that spring, but that the four properties are still advertised on Airbnb.

In her email, Mason said the court action is “not the first time our company has been bullied by the city’s [short-term rental] bylaw department.”

“This is not a group that is interested in working with business licence holders to find solutions,” she wrote.

The city is asking for a court order permanently banning Amala from running the condos — or any other homes, anywhere in the city — as short-term rentals. It’s also asking for a court order giving city employees the right to go into the condos for daytime inspections for two years, so long as they give the owners a day’s notice.

The city declined further comment.

Fight with the province

On top of the case with the city, Mason is also challenging a new B.C. law restricting short-term rentals to a homeowner’s principal residence. It means short-term rentals, like those offered on Airbnb, have to be within a host’s home, or a basement suite or laneway home on the property.

The Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act took effect on May 1 and applies in more than 60 communities across the province.

WATCH | Property owners seek compensation: 

Property owners seek judicial review of new short-term rental rules

A group of property owners offering short-term rentals is seeking a judicial review into new provincial rules. As Meera Bains reports, they also want final compensation and a court injunction to delay enforcement of new regulations limiting short-term rentals.

The government says the law is meant to stop short-term rentals from “taking away homes people need.” In an interview last winter, Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said Airbnb property managers should find new jobs.

Mason, Amala and the West Coast Association for Property Rights filed a petition against the law in April; asking a judge to decide whether the province had the authority to pass the act.

In the filing, Amala said it had laid off more than half of its previous 32 employees and cut seven contractors by April because of the new rules announced in October. The company said the number of short-term rentals under its management had dropped by a quarter, down from 90 to 65.

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