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Toronto landlord found condo listed on Airbnb by someone who wasn’t her tenant. She blames lax city rules

A Toronto condo owner is demanding changes to how the City of Toronto grants short-term rental licences after learning someone other than her approved tenant was able to obtain one for her unit.

Allison Rasquinha, a real estate agent, says the licence was used to rent out her downtown studio on Adelaide Street West to multiple guests on Airbnb.com over a period of several months without her knowledge or permission and in violation of the rules of her condo corporation.

After Rasquinha initiated eviction proceedings for violating the terms of the lease, the tenant offered to leave within a week, but only in exchange for thousands of dollars in compensation. CBC is not naming the tenants.

“She’s in my condo just as an enterprise, not as a home,” said Rasquinha. “You feel very violated.”

Gaps in short-term rental regulation: landlord

Rasquinha, who is now incurring legal fees and fighting to regain control of her condo, says the situation highlights gaps in how city hall regulates short-term rentals.

“The city needs to take some responsibility and some action in order to protect condo owners,” Rasquinha said.

“They have to do something to at least make sure that the Airbnbs that they are regulating are actually authorized and allowed to operate.”

Rasquinha says the condo she bought in 2019 was her primary residence, but she decided to rent it out last year because she was getting married and moving in with her husband. Using the Realtor.ca website, she found a woman from B.C. who said she was interested in renting the unit.

The woman provided a rental application, ID, a credit check report, other documents and personal references.

“She was saying like, ‘I’m a landlord, I know what it’s like … I take very good care of the properties I’m in,’ ” said Rasquinha. “So that gave me a lot of comfort.”

The two signed a one-year lease starting July 1, 2022, according to documents reviewed by CBC Toronto.

The unit was registered for short-term rental that same month, according to the city’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department.

A screenshot of the Airbnb listing.
A screenshot of the Airbnb listing for Rasquinha’s downtown studio condo on Adelaide Street West. (Submitted by Allison Rasquinha)

Property manager reached out to landlord

Rasquinha says she might never have found out about the situation, except that she received an incident report from her building’s security team on Feb. 28.

“I just received an incident report from security in regards to someone looking for [unit number redacted] for an Air BnB,” the building’s property manager wrote to Rasquinha in an email that day. 

“Thought you should know as short term rentals aren’t allowed, nor are subleases and you might not even be aware that your tenant appears to be renting out your unit.”

When Rasquinha asked the tenant about the incident via email, the tenant responded: “[I’m] not too sure what that would be about.” She suggested it could have been a mix up with a neighbouring unit.

Rasquinha was later able to locate a listing for her unit on Airbnb.com, hosted by a person who wasn’t her tenant and whom she didn’t know. CBC Toronto has reviewed screenshots of the listing taken in March, which included 30 user reviews.

“It was like the bottom dropped out of my stomach,” Rasquinha said.

Host no longer with Airbnb, company says

She learned the name of the person who held the licence through a freedom of information request filed with the City of Toronto. Rasquinha said that after she contacted the host on Airbnb and reached out to Airbnb itself, the listing came down. But she said it reappeared with a new title four different times.

Airbnb said in a statement that the listing was taken down on April 16 after its customer service team followed up with the host about ownership of the condo. The statement noted that the city is responsible for processing and approving licences.

“The host is no longer hosting on the platform,” the statement said.

In phone and email conversations with CBC Toronto, Rasquinha’s tenant admitted to renting out the condo on Airbnb. She claimed this was done infrequently and only when she was out of town.

The tenant said her boyfriend, who lived in the unit with her, registered it with the city and listed it online.

The tenant said she was under no obligation to inform her landlord that her boyfriend had moved in with her, citing the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) website, which states: “a person may reside as an occupant or a roommate in a rental unit with or without the consent of the landlord provided that the tenant also resides in the rental unit.”

The tenant said she was unaware that short-term rentals were a violation of the condo corporation’s rules because even though the rules were referenced in the lease agreement, Rasquinha had not provided her with a copy.

Photo ID main requirement for city approval

To list a unit for rent on Airbnb in Toronto, hosts have to register with the city and post their registration number on their listing, unless it’s a hotel or motel.

According to the city, renters can obtain a short-term rental registration number for the unit they’re renting if they pay a $50 registration fee and can prove it’s their “principal residence” using an Ontario driver’s licence or Ontario photo card. The city said some applications are approved automatically, while others require additional review or a property inspection. 

While the city acknowledged that some condo corporations have bylaws that prevent short-term rentals, it said that it’s the responsibility of building property managers to inform the city of those rules, and that it’s the responsibility of the owner or tenant to follow them.

“Tenants should be aware of their responsibilities under the Residential Tenancies Act and their lease agreement with the landlord,” the city said in a statement. “The city’s short-term rental team is unable to get involved in landlord tenant issues/disputes as this is under the purview of the Landlord and Tenant Board.”

Regarding Rasquinha’s unit, the city said it received a complaint in March 2023 from the landlord and learned through its investigation that the condo corporation has bylaws prohibiting short-term rentals.

The city said it is working on revoking the short-term rental registration for the unit.

‘Cash for keys’ deals common due to LTB delays, paralegal says

Rasquniha initiated eviction proceedings in March, according to documents filed with the LTB.

According to emails from March 23 between Rasquinha and the tenant reviewed by CBC Toronto, the tenant proposed that she could leave by the end of the month in exchange for the return of her last month’s rent deposit, in addition to $6,000 in compensation due to the short notice.

“I would require compensation to help cover the costs of acquiring temporary accommodation and my moving expenses,” the email said. “I would need my last month’s deposit returned, 2 month’s rent as compensation, plus $1,000 for moving and storage arrangements.”

A man in a suit conducts an interview in a legal services office.
Paralegal Liam Imlach-Walker says ‘cash for keys’ situations, where landlords pay their tenants to vacate a rental unit rather than wait for months for a hearing before the backlogged Landlord and Tenant Board, are becoming more common. (Keith Burgess/CBC)

Liam Imlach-Walker, a paralegal with Sturino Walker Legal Services who is representing Rasquinha, said “cash for keys” deals, where landlords pay a tenant to vacate rather than wait months for a hearing at the LTB, are becoming more common due to a backlog of cases.

“All landlords know that the quickest way for them to get the tenant out is doing a cash for keys, meaning that they pay them X amount of money and they vacate commonly within 30 to 60 days,” he said.

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