Toronto Convicts First Airbnb Owner
The company that owns a Willowdale house that was the scene of a shooting earlier this year has pleaded guilty to a single zoning bylaw violation.
This is the first conviction for the city’s municipal and licensing department in the booming area of short-term vacation rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO. To date, only one other operator has been charged, though there are 25 active investigations related to short-term rentals right now.
Yan Pan Zhao entered the guilty plea Tuesday at the Toronto East Court in Scarborough on behalf of 2391324 Ontario Ltd., which owns 5 Glenelia Ave., in the Bayview Ave. and Cummer Ave. area. Zhao said his wife Dan Wei is the sole officer and director of the numbered company.
Justice of the peace Gerry Altobello agreed to delay sentencing until January on the grounds that the property would be put on the market in the next seven days, with a purchase and sale agreement anticipated soon after.
“The defendant wants to come back with the cleanest of hands,” said city prosecutor Geoffrey Uyeno in court. “They have hired a real estate agent and intend to put it on the market.”
The maximum penalty for a conviction is $50,000, though the justice of the peace has discretion at sentencing, including issuing a conviction with no penalty, essentially a suspended sentence.
Uyeno outlined details of the offence, noting the charge relates to Oct. 9, 2015, when licensing inspectors visited the property and met a couple from Ottawa, who were renting the house for four nights beginning on Oct. 8.
Under an old North York bylaw, which still applies while a harmonized zoning bylaw covering amalgamated Toronto is being reviewed, short-term home rentals must be seven days or more, so this house did not meet the definition of a tourist home.
Uyeno added that this house had been the subject of numerous complaints from neighbours in the area.
He listed other specific dates in October and November, when city inspectors visited and determined the house was being rented out on a short-term basis, with visitors from California, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, sometimes paying $199 a night.
He also quoted from Internet searches showing that the house was advertised as sleeping up to 12 people, with five or six bedrooms, and three bathrooms. The prosecutor noted that the house has not been rented out and has been vacant for the last six months.
Uyeno said outside court that he made no mention of March 20 — when party-goers fled the house in a panic after a man was shot in the head, according to police — because the zoning bylaw violation relates to specifically to Oct. 9.
When approached outside court, Zhao declined to comment.
City council has asked staff to propose ways to regulate short-term rentals in Toronto as it is growing in popularity. Citing data provided by Airbnb, staff say 9,460 rooms or entire units in Toronto were rented on the platform in 2015 — double figures from 2014.
In March 2015, the Star reported on complaints from Glenelia Ave. residents about the rental home, citing cases when police were called due to noise or rowdy parties including one post-prom event in June 2014.
Source: Vanessa Lu With The Star