Condo owner shocked her unit was being sublet on Airbnb
Toronto woman wonders if bed bugs discovered in the loft were brought there by a short-term tenant.
Toronto Star
By Betsy Powell
24 May 24 2017

The living room of the Loft at Village by the Grange

Even in Toronto’s tight rental market, Zenobia Omarali agreed to lower the rent for her tenant — the son of a former employee — when he moved into her spacious downtown loft two years ago.

asked her to pay a pest control service to get rid of bed bugs — and replace his mattress

And this past winter, when the tenant, Zeyadh Moosa, asked her to pay a pest control service to get rid of bed bugs — and replace his mattress — Omarali agreed.

She said Moosa told her the bedbugs “came through the walls, and it’s my fault.”

So she was shocked when she found out that Moosa, 26, had been subletting the unit on Airbnb for up to $200 a night.

Moosa is currently paying $2,600 a month for the loft, Omarali said.

“My heart’s just going ‘Oh my gosh, no wonder I had to buy a new mattress,’ ” she said of her suspicion that an Airbnb “guest” imported the bedbugs.

“I trust all my tenants,” said Omarali, a high school guidance counsellor who owns several rental properties in Toronto. “When you have your own property and rent to someone else, that’s a bond. When you break that bond it’s heartbreaking. It’s not just a transaction; it’s more of a relationship.”

When contacted by the Star recently and asked if he put the unit on Airbnb, Moosa said he did because he was using it to find long-term renters “to help her (Omarali) fill holes in units she wasn’t able to find tenants for, which I was successfully doing for her.”

Moosa said he discovered the bedbugs “during that time I was living there,” adding “it’s an old building.”

He said his family and Omarali have known each other for almost 20 years, and said he thinks there has been “a misunderstanding about this whole situation.”

Omarali’s story highlights a new area of concern for renters in Toronto: the business of short-term, online rentals.

Airbnb may be popular with budget travelers and “hosts” looking for extra cash, but such rental businesses have become a vexing issue for condominium owners, condo boards and management companies.

There’s concern over the constant arrival and departure of short-term visitors, wear and tear on buildings, insurance, legal and zoning implications and the fact that there is no way of knowing how many online, short-term rentals are in violation of condo declarations, bylaws and rules, said Toronto condo Lawyer Denise Lash.

“The problem is catching people,” she said.

Lash’s law firm has produced a “practical guide to short-term stays” for condo boards and owners that includes tips for residents and condo staff.

They include posting notices in elevators “reminding residents of the restrictions or prohibitions,” and going online “to see if the unit is posted on one of many websites that offer these services.”

Omarali checked online to see if the unit was posted on a short-term rental site. She also called Airbnb and asked if the unit—located at Village by the Grange on McCaul St.—was listed.

The company sent her an email that read “communicating directly with your tenant is the simplest way to address these types of complaints.”

Omarali said the response surprised her.

“I can’t believe that Airbnb does not verify ownership or if a client can legally rent or sublease their unit,” she said.

“I can’t believe that Airbnb does not verify ownership or if a client can legally rent or sublease their unit,” she said.

In response to questions by the Star, Airbnb spokesperson Lindsey Scully wrote in an email that the San Francisco-based company asks all its hosts “to follow their local laws and to receive permission from landlords before hosting.”

After getting nowhere, someone suggested Omarali search Moosa’s host nickname, Airbnz.

She did and found photos from the loft she bought almost two decades ago. There was also another condo unit under his “host” name.

“I saw that he had over 140 reviews praising him for the service, the outdoor patio and convenient location,” Omarali said.

Moosa said those reviews weren’t for her unit alone. “You must understand I was brokering for other property owners and people trying to rent out their spaces, so it was not just all for one unit,” he said.

Omarali said she visited Moosa at his eyewear store to ask about her concerns. Moosa told her seven people had stayed in her unit and that the reviews were for other condos he rents.

During her visit, Moosa agreed to sign a “cease and desist agreement,” she said. The “Queen Street Loft” listing has been taken off the Airbnb website.

Omarali said he told her he was unaware of the condominium corporation’s rules that state “use of a unit for short-term leasing, whether through companies such as Airbnb or similar business enterprises, is strictly prohibited.”

Omarali wants her story to serve as a cautionary tale for other condo owners — while sending a message to city officials studying short-term rental regulations that “they need to do something about this Wild West, free-for-all mentality.”

From now on, Omarali plans to include a no-subletting clause in her leases that explicitly says “no Airbnb.”

Her biggest concern, she said, is the potential for her own liability “if something happens in the unit.”

It’s a legitimate concern. Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Pete Karageorgos said she and other condo owners have good reason to be worried about the validity of their insurance coverage if a unit has been turned “into a hotel” and is being rented to “anyone and everyone.”

Tenants should also be mindful that they could incur costs if something goes wrong when a condo is occupied by a short-term Airbnb renter.

“Ultimately a tenant who is trying to make a few bucks can end up being out of pocket for injuries or damages,” Karageorgos said.

Condo lawyer Lash hopes the city will follow Chicago’s lead by establishing a prohibited building list of properties where short-term rental activity is illegal.

“Hosts” and short-term rental companies found in violation are subject to escalating fines and penalties, Lash said.

Thorben Wieditz, a spokesperson for Fairbnb, a coalition of labour, tenant and resident groups pushing for regulation, said his group has heard many stories about problems with short-term rentals.

It “shows that regulation is desperately needed,” he wrote in email.

Toronto city staff will present short-term regulatory options to Mayor John Tory’s executive committee next month.

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