Security concern as apartment owners feel Airbnb boom

Staff reporter

Monday, February 18, 2019

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SOME owners of apartments islandwide are feeling pressure caused by the Airbnb boom.

This comes as other owners and occupants of residences seek to capitalise on the lucrative opportunity and the demand for short-term rentals, but security issues have also arisen.

Based in San Francisco, California, in the United States, Airbnb is an online community marketplace for people to list, discover and book unique accommodation around the world, whether an apartment for a night or week, or a villa for a month.

According to Chief Executive Officer of the Real Estate Board Sandra Watson-Garrick, the owners are primarily concerned about their security and over the last two years the board has been receiving a number of complaints and they are ongoing and increasing.

“The challenge is that some proprietors and some executive committees that think that there's a security risk, they just see persons turn up in the scheme. They don't know who they are. They're there for a short time. They don't necessarily know if those persons are vetted and they can't do anything and everything and just walk away,” she explained.

In addition to the security risk, the proprietors have also complained about the misuse of the common property.

Watson-Garrick explained that this occurs when proprietors seek to use the apartment in ways that are contrary to what it was designed for, such as for short-term rentals when it is not stated in the by-laws that govern the use of the premises.

While adding that most persons see short-term rental as commercial activities she said: “Some persons have bought into residential property and now see it as a wonderful opportunity to do something with their apartment but then it is posing a challenge with the neighbours.”

Consequently she said, “The Commission of Strata Corporations has received a number of dispute resolution requests as it involves Airbnb.”

Watson-Garrick, who is also the president of the commission, stated that its role is to hear disputes between proprietors or between the executive committee and proprietors as it relates to things to do with the law, such as if the residents are leaving things in a common area, noise disturbances or failing to pay maintenance fees.

She was, however, unable to provide the number of complaints that have been received but indicated that most have been successfully settled during the dispute resolution hearings. However, three have escalated and are ongoing, Watson-Garrick added.

Past President of the Realtors Association of Jamaica Howard Johnson who also spoke of receiving complaints as a property manager, said there are some gaps in how the short-term rental space is regulated as it is not covered under the Rent Act.

“It is an extensive amount of the strata complexes that I manage that have issues for persons with short-term rentals and the remedy that they're seeking is to change their by-laws,” he said.

There is an instance of strata that is just about to be completed that in its by-laws, short-term rental will be allowed. He said that whoever buys into that complex would have known that short-term rental will occur at the location, as opposed to those who have adopted the by-laws that in the Act does not speak to short terms rentals.

However, as it relates to the problems that occur in the Airbnb sector, Johnson said there is no avenue for recourse.

“So if you have a challenge you can't just go to the Rent Board and say 'can you assist me' because your lease does not qualify to fall under the Act.

“You go on Airbnb and somebody contacts you, you don't know this person from Adam but they pay you and show up at your door, and when you find out that they are really somebody that you don't want there and you are not getting along, how do you get them out? And if you put them out you get in trouble because you have collected their money,” Johnson said.

He further asked, “Suppose their stay ended and they don't come out, are they trespassing, how do you get them to come out?

However, in the meantime he said that there is a committee which has been formed that includes representatives from the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, the Rent Board, the Real Estate Board/Strata Commission of Corporations and the National Environment and Planning Agency, which is looking at how to address the different issues that arise in short-term rental.

“The objective right now is to see whether or not there is a need for a new regulation or if there existing regulation or regulations that we can pull together to come up with possibly a policy to govern the sector. If not, we might have to create legislation that speaks specifically to short-term rentals,” Johnson added.

In 2017 Jamaica recorded approximately 55,000 Airbnb bookings across the island, with hosts in the Corporate Area earning US$2.4 million.

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