UBC student analyzes effects of Airbnb on Vancouver rental market

Fifth-year student, Iain Majoribanks — who is studying human geography at UBC — analyzed data on Airbnb rental properties in Vancouver to help initiate a conversation about the company’s effect on affordable housing in the region.

“We were trying to discern how the availability of affordable housing in Vancouver was impacted by Airbnb,” said Majoribanks. By analyzing the rate at which Airbnb short-term renters occupy rental suites in Vancouver, Majoribanks discovered that Airbnb does have a significant effect on the availability and cost of long-term rental housing.

His research came out of a graduate studies seminar on affordable housing, which he took in the school of Regional and Community Planning as an undergraduate. Majoribanks recognized the irregularity of being able to take a graduate course as an undergraduate student, and noted that his research may have not been as well recognized without being afforded this opportunity.

“It really started for me when I began to get noticed for the work I was doing in my undergraduate courses,” explained Majoribanks. “From that I was really invited to ask my professor to take courses in the faculty.”

For his research, he analyzed data from the 3,425 active Vancouver listings on airbnb.ca from 2015 and categorized the listing into two separate groups for further analysis. These two groups are “commercial properties,” essentially “virtual hotels” as described in his official report, and “casual hosts,” those who rent their homes on Airbnb less frequently.

“In an April 2016 interview with the CBC, the head of Airbnb Canada, Aaron Zifkin, stated that ‘all of our hosts are occasional home-sharers,’” wrote Majoribanks in his report.

Yet, Majoribanks’ findings show that 1,811 suites or 53 per cent of Vancouver’s listed Airbnb rentals are commercial properties. Of these rentals only 11 per cent fall in accordance with the city of Vancouver’s bylaws by providing a commercial license number on their Airbnb advertisements.

This, along with the anonymity of hosts on the website, makes it difficult to track every short-term rental property being used as a commercial property through airbnb.ca, and to discern whether properties are legal commercial rental units or not.

As Majoribanks explained, the total number of Airbnb properties accounts for 1.2 per cent of all rental units including condos, basement suits, laneways and apartments.

“You can imagine that if we could magically turn those Airbnb listings into long term rental housing we could actually raise the vacancy rate from 0.8 to 2 per cent … this demonstrates the scale of this issue in a way that people can really get their minds around,” said Majoribanks.

Majoribanks mentioned that the experience of being recognized internationally was unexpected, but that he was grateful for the support of UBC throughout the entire process.

Since publishing his research, Marjoribanks has been approached by municipalities such as Nelson, New Orleans and Los Angeles to use his research methodology to help the city staff understand the effects of Airbnb in their regions.