Vancouver housing activist Rohana Rezel’s fight against Airbnb and the City of Vancouver continues, thanks to a recent ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court. Rezel had submitted Freedom of Information requests to the city in 2019, seeking information about the hosts of short-term rentals. However, both the city and Airbnb resisted, arguing that releasing this information could potentially harm property owners and make them vulnerable to violence and stalking.
While British Columbia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner partially agreed with these concerns, they still ordered the city to release certain information to Rezel. This included “licence numbers of individuals on the Airbnb platform, home addresses of all hosts in the City; and the licence numbers associated with those addresses.”
Displeased with the potential release of this information, Airbnb sought a judicial review in the B.C. Supreme Court. Justice Jasvinder Basran ruled in favor of the company this week, ordering the privacy commissioner to reconsider their decision and notify the hosts whose information was at stake.
For Rezel, the issue at hand is the lack of transparency surrounding Airbnb hosts in Vancouver. He believes that this select group of people are allowed to conduct their business in secrecy, and he wants to shed light on the topic. Rezel argues that people should be able to know if they have been evicted to make way for an Airbnb, and they should be aware if they are living next to one.
Through his activism, Rezel has helped numerous people who have been evicted due to Airbnb, but many remain unaware of the true reason behind their eviction. He claims that the City of Vancouver’s reluctance to release information about hosts and their short-term rentals hinders the ability to prove wrongful evictions. Rezel argues that if this data were publicly available, individuals could easily discover if their eviction was associated with an Airbnb by looking up licensing information.
While Airbnb won its case to have Rezel’s request reconsidered, Rezel himself had no direct involvement. He was identified only as a “John Doe Requester.” Additionally, Rezel mentioned that Airbnb sought costs involved in the judicial review, which he would not have been able to cover had he participated.
To further support the potential harm from releasing this information, an affidavit submitted to the privacy commissioner by the city described social media posts that were “obscene, aggressive, and threatening” toward operators of short-term rentals. The judge’s decision criticized the privacy commissioner for categorizing home addresses as business information instead of personal information, as Airbnb hosts operate in their principal residences.
Rezel expressed disappointment in the ruling, as it means he will have to wait even longer to access information about short-term rentals in Vancouver. With the city already facing a housing crisis, he firmly believes that businesses should not be able to operate in secrecy while others comply with regulations. Rezel sees it as a two-tier system.
As of now, Airbnb has not provided a comment on the court ruling. The battle between Rezel, Airbnb, and the City of Vancouver continues, raising questions about transparency and accountability within the short-term rental industry.