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Vancouver vigilantes take housing matters into their own hands

Alec Smecher had put a deposit down on the rental apartment near Commercial Drive, but the landlady called the next day to say she’d rented to someone else. She said she’d tear up his cheque.

They had an agreement, and what she did might be actionable, he thought. Later, when he saw the woman was renting another suite in her five-bedroom house on Airbnb, it pushed him over the edge. Now, Mr. Smecher has become something of a housing vigilante, joining a growing number of Vancouverites, frustrated by an unaffordable city and a lack of solutions.

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Mr. Smecher has narrowed his focus to Vancouver landlords renting out laneway houses because, being self-contained, they are easy to spot. If it is a regular Airbnb rental and it has hundreds of reviews, it would be obvious that the owner is renting it illegally. Because Mr. Smecher is a software developer, he’s able to do some programming to search for words on the Airbnb site, such as “cottage,” “laneway” or “coach house.” He found a total of 75 laneway houses he is certain are being used as Airbnb rentals instead of housing for locals. (Renting laneway homes for short-term rental is prohibited and homeowners can face fines, according to new rules announced by the City of Vancouver last year).

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