Skip to content

Airbnb to pull illegal listings in Quebec days after fatal Montreal fire

Police say it’s ‘improbable’ there are more than seven missing in Old Montreal fire
A worker is shown next to a building that was gutted by a fire in Montreal, Thursday, March 23, 2023. The heritage building went up in flames last week. Four bodies have been recovered and three people remain missing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Short-term rental company Airbnb said Friday it would pull listings in Quebec that don’t have a permit from the provincial government, eight days after a fatal fire destroyed a historic Old Montreal building that housed illegal rentals.

Four bodies have so far been pulled from the building and three people remain missing in the rubble of Édifice William-Watson-Ogilvie, constructed in 1890. Some of those missing had rented their accommodations on Airbnb. In 2018, Airbnb-style short-term rentals were made illegal in the area where the building is located.

In a letter Friday to Quebec Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx, Airbnb said that it would remove listings across the province that don’t have a permit from the agency that manages the province’s tourist accommodation act.

It also said that in the coming days it will require new listings to include the permit number. The company also promised to give the provincial government access to the Airbnb City Portal — a tool it says helps communities enforce rules and understand its local footprint.

“These measures build on our years-long efforts to work with local and provincial officials on short-term rental rules that help address community concerns and also preserve a vital source of supplemental income for residents,” the company wrote.

The letter was signed by Nathan Rotman, Airbnb’s representative for Canada and the northeastern United States. He was one of two employees of the company who met Thursday in Quebec City with Proulx.

Proulx said in a statement following the meeting she had made clear she was determined to tighten the rules surrounding rentals and to make shared-accommodation platforms more accountable. She also vowed to revise the law by June 9 to ensure listings include the permit number.

In a statement shared Friday by her spokesperson, Proulx said she was pleased with Airbnb’s measures. “I am satisfied with Airbnb’s decision to comply with our legislation as I demanded yesterday during our meeting,” Proulx said.

“I also ask other platforms to comply; however, I remain firm on my intention to tighten the (law).”

Earlier this week, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante accused San Francisco-based Airbnb of “washing its hands” of the problem of illegal rentals in cities across the province.

“It’s not normal to have a business that doesn’t worry about the legitimacy of the people who do business with it, and who puts the responsibility on municipal and provincial instances — so taxpayers pay. When you think about it, it’s totally absurd,” Plante said.

Meanwhile, Montreal police say they don’t think they’ll find more than seven bodies in the rubble of the building.

Police told reporters today they don’t have reports of more people missing, adding that it’s “improbable” there are more than seven victims.

Only one victim has been identified: a 76-year-old woman who had lived in the building for decades. Insp. David Shane says officials are working to identify the other three.

Police say three people reported missing are likely still in the charred remains of the building.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

—Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Families of Montreal fire victims facing agonizing wait for answers