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Illegal Airbnb operator loses bid to rejoin Vancouver short-term rental market

Anuj Chopra: "I stand before you all with humility and profound acknowledgement of my past missteps."
A city council panel heard Tuesday that an apartment in this residential building at 688 Abbott St. and another at 188 Keefer St. were being operated as illegal short-term rentals.

The owner of two Vancouver apartments who pleaded guilty in 2022 to illegally operating short-term rentals in both units argued unsuccessfully Tuesday with three city councillors to allow him to obtain a licence to list one of his properties again on Airbnb.

Council’s business licence review panel heard that Anuj Chopra entered guilty pleas in March 2022 to operating a short-term rental without a licence in a building at 188 Keefer St. and in another building a few blocks away at 688 Abbott St.

Chopra has since applied to list the Abbott Street property again.

But a city bylaw dictates that the city’s chief licence inspector — Sarah Hicks — must deny any application for a business licence if an owner was convicted of operating an illegal short-term rental within the past five years.

At the same time, Chopra is given the right to argue his case before the panel, which he did Tuesday, first apologizing to councillors Lisa Dominato, Christine Boyle and Rebecca Bligh before he asked for their support.

“I stand before you all with humility and profound acknowledgement of my past missteps,” he said, noting he has since studied the city’s bylaw.

“I’m asking for an opportunity where I can showcase that someone who’s done a mistake unknowingly has the ability to come forward and fix those mistakes and make sure those are not repeated.”

Before the councillors unanimously rejected Chopra’s request, they heard from Hicks, who outlined the city’s history with Chopra regarding audits of his two properties, which began in August 2020.

Both audits showed non-compliance with the city’s short-term rental regulations.

Hicks referred to screenshots taken by city investigators of online bookings at the Abbott Street property where guests had stayed between July 2021 and October 2022, while Chopra’s licence had been suspended.

Chopra’s guilty pleas also came with a judge’s order that he not market or use his properties for short-term rental for at least one year.

The panel heard that even without Chopra’s guilty pleas, Hicks would have still recommended he not receive a licence because she said he continued to show a disregard for the bylaw.

Pots and pans

In stating her reasons for rejecting Chopra’s request, Bligh argued that she didn’t believe the Abbott Street property was Chopra’s principal residence, which is a requirement under the city’s bylaw to allow it to be rented on the short-term market.

She pointed to a guest’s review, who noted there were no pots or pans during the stay.

“To me, there's no way you're living in the property without pots and pans,” Bligh told Chopra.

“I get we're talking over the period of maybe three or four years here — and memories can be a bit foggy in terms of timing — but I just don't think that the evidence shows that we have heard exactly what the truth and facts are to the situation.”

Boyle and Dominato both agreed with Bligh, with Boyle saying the city’s regulations exist “for good reason,” noting the city’s housing crisis and the need for long-term rental accommodations.

The city’s stated intention of the bylaw was focused on encouraging owners with available rental space to place it on the long-term rental market, while at the same time allowing law-abiding citizens to gain extra income from Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms.

The current annual fee for a short-term rental licence is $1,000.

'Shocking and sad'

Outside the council chamber, Chopra said he was disappointed in the panel’s decision, arguing he was providing accommodations for people. His plan was to put one of the two bedrooms in the Abbott Street apartment on Airbnb.

“It was really shocking and sad for business owners who are trying to pay taxes, property taxes and provide housing by purchasing places and putting them [up for] rent,” he said. “[The panel] didn’t see that side.”

Chopra said he and his wife bought the Abbott Street property in 2017 and maintained it as their principal residence. He said the couple only listed the apartment on Airbnb when they were out of town.

“There were times I was travelling and I wasn't living there,” he said. “I didn't have to live there the whole year. I had to live there six months to meet that it was my principal residence and I was living there for that period.”

The Keefer Street property, he said, is occupied by a long-time renter.

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