City addresses speculation about short-term rental data

Kingston City Hall.

The City of Kingston, which is currently in the process of creating a by-law to license and regulate short-term rentals, is responding to speculation and questions circulating about some of the data collection being proposed.

The potential by-law is being addressed on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 at the Administrative Policies Committee after being deferred by Council in December of 2019.

Part of the proposed by-law would include an agreement with Host Compliance, a Seattle-based company who bills itself on Twitter as ‘rental compliance monitoring and enforcement solutions for local governments.’

“We wanted to clarify and be transparent about the actual process being proposed” said Paige Agnew, Commissioner of Community Services for the city in a statement. “[Host Compliance] would scan online ads and listings to identify the addresses of short-term rental properties to be licensed.”

Host Compliance, operates by taking publicly available information, such as listings on sites like AirBnB, to determine the location of each rental and focuses on the address and unit rather than the person who listed it, according to the City.

Once a short list of addresses has been isolated, Host Compliance then uses analysts to determine the exact address and, where possible, the unit number. This is done without visiting the properties, creating fake listings, or contacting hosts.

“Host Compliance hosts data on System and Organizational Controls 2 (SOC 2) compliant servers located in Canada,” the City said in a statement. “This is the highest standard of privacy security available on the market [and] is subject to standard data retention policies. The data they would collect on behalf of the City of Kingston would be stored on secure servers, encrypted, and only made available to authorized City personnel via secure web connections.”

The city also notes that Host Compliance is compliant with Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). The privacy page on the Host Compliance doesn’t specifically list MFIPPA.

Kingston Accommodation Partners (KAP) is also looking to Host Compliance, noting in a letter to Council that the requirements for invoicing, payment processing, late payment calculations and direct deposits were key to their selection of the company.

While KAP will be paying for the software rental activity and collection components, the city is looking to pay $17,939 from the existing Building & Enforcement Services budget for its first year of operation, and plans to fund future years through short-term rental licensing fees.

Information gathered, the city notes, would “be used only for enforcing the short-term rental by-law.”

The proposed by-law, if approved at committee, would be presented to Council in March.

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