The provincial government has put a temporary ban on short-term rentals, which includes online booking companies like Airbnb, during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ruling was issued under Ontario's Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, which states that as of 11:59 pm on Saturday, April 4, short-term rentals are only permitted for individuals “who are in need of housing during the emergency period.”
Under the province’s emergency order – which is in effect for 14 days and could be extended longer – hotels, motels, and student residences are allowed to remain open and face no restrictions.
Ontario, which updated its list of essential businesses late last week as confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths continued to increase, joins Quebec and other US states and municipalities that have already banned or restricted short-term rentals in response to the deadly pandemic.
Airbnb spokesperson Alex Dragg says leisure travel should not be happening right now and the company has been encouraging its host and guest community to follow all restrictions now in place.
"We're glad the Province of Ontario recognizes the many situations where short-term rentals remain an available resource during this crisis, including for frontline responders, other workers requiring isolation and those sheltering in place during this crisis," said Dragg.
Thorben Wieditz of Fairbnb Canada, a coalition that called on Premier Doug Ford last month to ban Airbnb and other short-term rentals during the pandemic to minimize the community spread of COVID-19, said that while "this ban leaves the door open to legitimate use, it effectively shuts down still-occurring party rentals and non-essential travel.”
According to Fairbnb, if found breaking the emergency law, individual hosts could face fines up to $100,000 while corporations could be fined as much as $10,000,000.
"The ruling puts the onus on STR operators to decide whether a booking is legitimate," said Wieditz, adding, "It also doesn't prevent anyone from renting their properties to long-term tenants to generate revenue."
This move comes on the heels of Airbnb announcing new community policy rules, which include prohibiting listing titles "that could be interpreted as exploiting the pandemic, such as marketing around escaping COVID-19", promoting a listing as being "well-stocked on limited resources such as hand sanitizer or toilet paper," and banning hosts from "authorizing parties in regions where current public health mandates prohibit events and gatherings."