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Vancouver pleased with short-term rental rules, but warns ‘egregious’ operators

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  • Vancouver has seen an “incredibly high” number of property owners getting business licences for short-term rentals but there remain a number of people who are refusing to follow the rules, says the city’s chief licence inspector.

    The city brought in rules last September that require people who list rentals on vacation websites such as Airbnb and VRBO to obtain a business licence. At the time, there were some 6,600 illegal listings, Kathryn Holm said Thursday.

    Holm said the number of active listings has dropped to 4,720 and some 2,628 business licences have been issued, which she described as better compliance than other cities around the world that have tried to regulate short-term rentals.

    “That has been a very promising outcome of our program thus far, to see how many operators in Vancouver are willing and able to comply with our bylaws,” she said.

    “What has been continually not necessarily surprising, but interesting, is there are a number of consistently egregious operators that continue to persist to operate despite our legal efforts. We are continuing to focus on those operators and escalate our enforcement action.”

    As of March 6, the city had opened more than 2,000 case files and taken enforcement action against 820 suspected unauthorized short-term rentals. Enforcement action can include issuing tickets, injunctions, legal orders and prosecutions.

    Three cases have gone through the courts so far. A commercial operator with 35 short-term rental listings at two properties was fined $20,000 for one property and a trial date is set for the second one. Two other operators pleaded guilty to violations and each was fined $2,500 in provincial court.

    The city has issued 274 tickets. The fine for each offence is $1,000, but it can drop to $500 if an operator pays within 10 days. Holm said she did not know how many tickets have been paid, but the city has collected $32,000 in fines, indicating penalties have been collected on between 32 and 64 tickets.

    “Our goal really is compliance. That’s ultimately what we’re striving for. The ticket is one of many tools to get to compliance,” she said.

    Holm said the enforcement regime is strong enough.

    “It takes time to move forward with these legal actions in court, but … we are advancing cases through our court system,” she said.

    Vancouver’s regulations mean operators must have a business licence, which costs $49 annually, and the licence number must be included in their listings. Operators can only advertise their main residence and must have permission from their landlord or condo board to list a property.

    Jens von Bergmann, who founded the data analysis and visualization firm MountainMath and has been analyzing data from Airbnb, said it’s unclear why so many operators are still not complying with the rules.

    But he said city legal departments typically try to collect enough evidence to be certain they can win in court.

    He said his research indicates that some licence holders are not renting out their primary residences. For example, about 150 are listing more than one entire home in Vancouver on Airbnb, suggesting they are also advertising at least one secondary residence, he said.

    It’s not known whether some of them are among the 820 being targeted by the city, but von Bergmann questioned why it has not revoked their licences.

    “It’s just really bad optics for the city,” he said. “People, understandably, get quite upset about this. It’s like: ‘How come this person is still there?’ “

    Vancouver’s rules are aimed at freeing up housing for long-term renters in a tight market. The city’s regulations followed those of other jurisdictions including Portland, Ore., and Quebec. Toronto also introduced short-term rentals but an appeal of the rules has been delayed until August so they are not in effect.

    While Airbnb has sometimes clashed with cities, including New York, when they crack down on short-term rentals, Holm thanked the company for helping enforce Vancouver’s rules by removing listings that do not have a licence number.

    Several operators have been found to operate 10 or more properties, she said.

    “We are continuing to pursue them. We are not stopping.”

    Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


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    Father of seven children who were killed in Halifax house fire remains in coma

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  • HALIFAX — The father of seven children killed in a ferocious fire remains in a coma, a month after flames engulfed their Halifax home.

    Muslim community leaders say Ebraheim Barho has undergone multiple surgeries and remains in the intensive care unit of a Halifax hospital with his wife Kawthar at his side.

    Sheikh Wael Haridy of the Nova Scotia Islamic Community Centre says the grief-stricken mother is struggling with the loss of her children, who ranged in age from three months to their teens, while her husband remains in coma.

    Imam Abdallah Yousri of the Ummah Mosque says the community continues to wait and pray for his recovery.

    Although some relatives of the Syrian refugee family have arrived in Canada to offer support, efforts are still underway to bring more family members.

    Halifax deputy fire Chief David Meldrum says there are no updates on the investigation into the tragic house fire in the Spryfield neighbourhood.

    Once a cause has been determined, he says Halifax Fire and Emergency will hold a news conference to share the details with the public.

    The home on Quartz Drive was torn down earlier this month. All that remains at the grim site is the concrete foundation.

    Meldrum says he cannot comment on an ongoing investigation or the reason for any possible delay, but says “it’s fair to say that in the course of fire investigations generally, interviewing witnesses who may have information is an obvious item of importance to us.”

    Ebraheim Barho was rushed to hospital on Feb. 19 suffering from extensive burns and was placed in a medically induced coma.

    A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $700,000 for the family.

    The Canadian Press


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    Wilson-Raybould to reveal more details, documents on SNC-Lavalin affair

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  • OTTAWA — Jody Wilson-Raybould plans to reveal more — in writing — about her accusation that she faced improper pressure to prevent the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

    The former attorney general has written to the House of Commons justice committee to advise that she intends to make a written submission.

    She says the submission will disclose “relevant facts and evidence” in her possession that will further clarify her previous oral testimony at the committee and “elucidate the accuracy” of statements made by other witnesses who followed her.

    “I trust that the committee will receive this information as part of, and in follow-up to, my testimony on Feb. 27, 2019,” Wilson-Raybould writes. 

    “Further, I do hope my response to the committee’s specific request and the additional information will assist the committee in completing its study on this important matter and in preparing its final report.”

    The Liberal-dominated committee shut down its investigation into the affair on Tuesday, with Liberal members concluding no rules or laws were broken.

    Opposition parties have been demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grant a blanket waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to allow Wilson-Raybould to more fully tell her story.

    Wilson-Raybould says the additional information she will provide in her written submission will stay within the confines of the waiver she has already been granted, covering the period last fall when she claims to have been pressured up to Jan. 14 when she was shuffled out of her dual role as justice minister and attorney general.

    Her letter comes the day after former cabinet minister Jane Philpott fanned the flames of the SNC-Lavalin fire in an interview to Maclean’s magazine, saying there is “much more to the story” — a report that landed in the midst of a Conservative-orchestrated filibuster over the controversy.

    The filibuster, which continued until almost 1 a.m. Friday, was intended to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to offer a blanket waiver of privilege and confidentiality that Wilson-Raybould has claimed is necessary if she is to fully tell her side of the story.

    Philpott, who resigned early this month as Treasury Board president, told Maclean’s that she raised concerns with Trudeau, during a Jan. 6 discussion about an imminent cabinet shuffle, that Wilson-Raybould was being moved out of Justice because of her refusal to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.

    “I think Canadians might want to know why I would have raised that with the prime minister a month before the public knew about it. Why would I have felt that there was a reason why Minister Wilson-Raybould should not be shuffled?” she said. “My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story.”

    But Philpott actually appears to already be free to talk about that Jan. 6 conversation with Trudeau: The government has waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality for last fall, when Wilson-Raybould alleges she was improperly pressured, until Jan. 14, when she was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio. The waiver applies not just to Wilson-Raybould but to “any persons who directly participated in discussions with her” relating to the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for alleged corrupt practices in Libya.

    That waiver allowed Wilson-Raybould to testify for nearly four hours before the House of Commons justice committee.

    On Thursday, Trudeau rejected the opposition parties’ contention, echoed by Philpott, that a broader waiver is required to cover the period between Jan. 14 and Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet a month later.

    “It was extremely important that the former attorney general be allowed to share completely her perspectives, her experiences on this issue, and that is what she was able to do,” he said after an announcement in Mississauga, pumping up the latest budget’s promise to invest $2.2 billion more in municipal infrastructure projects.

    “The issue at question is the issue of pressure around the Lavalin issue while she was attorney general and she got to speak fully to that.”

    Trudeau also gave his version of the Jan. 6 conversation with Philpott, during which he informed her she would be moving to Treasury Board and that Wilson-Raybould would be taking her place at Indigenous Services. His version echoed the testimony of his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, to the justice committee.

    “She asked me directly if this was in link to the SNC-Lavalin decision and I told her no, it was not,” Trudeau said. “She then mentioned it might be a challenge for Jody Wilson-Raybould to take on the role of Indigenous Services and I asked her for her help, which she gladly offered to give, in explaining to Jody Wilson-Raybould how exciting this job was and what a great thing it would be for her to have that role.”

    Wilson-Raybould ultimately turned down the move to Indigenous Services and Trudeau moved her instead to Veterans Affairs. She resigned a month later.

    The Canadian Press




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    march, 2019

    fri8mar - 30aprmar 85:30 pmapr 30Real Estate Dinner Theatre5:30 pm - (april 30) 10:00 pm

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