OTTAWA -- The City of Ottawa is considering even tougher rules for short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, to crack down on so-called "ghost hotels."

The planning committee and the community and protective services committee will hold a joint meeting Thursday to discuss proposed bylaw changes—described as a three-year pilot project—that would redefine short-term rental use in Ottawa and further limit the use of vacant properties for short-term rentals.

The city already has some rules restricting how short-term rentals can be used, but a report prepared from the joint committee meeting says further clarification is needed.

"The short-term rental of residential units is not considered a residential land use and is not currently permitted in residential zones; however, clarification of existing definitions is required in order to allow appropriate enforcement. The proposed amendments will distinguish between residential land uses and commercial uses operated within residential units," the report says.

Council passed new rules in 2019 restricting the use of Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms to only a person's primary residence; however, under current rules, short-term rentals are still technically permitted only if one is operating a hotel or a bed and breakfast. City staff say there is currently no definition to permit the short-term rental of the whole of a residential unit in a residential zone as temporary accommodation for the public.

The rules came following complaints from neighbours of rowdy parties and even crimes at homes that appeared to exist purely as short-term rental properties, dubbed “ghost hotels.” Mayor Jim Watson said that, in some cases, the property owners didn't even live in the city.

Under the rules passed in 2019, homeowners or leaseholders would have to pay for a two-year permit in order to be allowed to rent out their homes as short-term rentals. Corporations would not be allowed to obtain short-term rental permits, and if a condo corporation, landlord, or social housing provider has registered an objection with the city, permits would not be issued for those properties, either.

The newly proposed bylaw would formally define a short-term rental as a home that, in whole or in part, is rented out for short-term stays of less than 30 consecutive nights. The home must be the primary residence of the operator. Bed and breakfasts would be included in the short-term rental rules. Homeowners would also be allowed to rent out their rural cottages.

The special joint meeting of the planning committee and community and protective services committee begins following the regularly scheduled meeting of the planning committee, which starts at 9 a.m. Thursday.