KINGSTON — Some of the city’s Airbnb hosts are skeptical of the city’s reassurances about plans to hire an American company to monitor the city’s short-term rental sector.
Earlier this week, the city issued a news release explaining the reasons why Host Compliance Technology Platform is being considered for the contract to track rental units being offered to visitors.
The contract is part of a new, revised bylaw that was before the administrative policies committee on Thursday night, only to be deferred until the committee’s April meeting.
The revised bylaw no longer includes a 180-day cap on the number of days a year a property can be rented, nor does it require hosts to rent only their principal residence.
American company Host Compliance is used by about 23 Canadian municipalities to help them regulate their short-term rental sectors. There are no Canadian companies providing similar services.
“There have been a lot of rumours, so we wanted to clarify and be transparent about the actual process being proposed,” Paige Agnew, the city’s commissioner of community services, said in the news release. “Basically, the city would contract a company to scan online ads and listings to identify the addresses of short-term rental properties to be licensed.”
But local Airbnb hosts don’t accept the city’s reassurances that the company abides by privacy laws.
“Whether or not such a contract would be illegal in Ontario or Canada is a fuzzy question which would I believe would take a very astute lawyer considerable time to unravel because of the interjurisdictional aspects,” Airbnb host Ron Hartling said. “But whether it’s ethical is far easier to determine.”
Hartling said Airbnb hosts must follow the company’s privacy rules and privacy laws.
Airbnb host Simon Andrew said the company hires contractors who collect information about short-term rental operators.
And as a Californian company, Host Compliance would be subject to U.S. legislation, such as the Patriot Act, Andrew added.
“Just because something is in the public domain, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t breached privacy laws, and many people struggle to understand this point,” Andrew said. “I am not sure you and I are comfortable with U.S. citizens bypassing Canadian privacy laws by collecting data on Kingstonians for profit.”