As Iqaluit’s sharing economy grows, so does need for business licences
"It's always been the rule"
Planning to visit Iqaluit this summer?
Options for places to stay have thinned considerably in the city this year with the closure of Hotel Arctic.
But that gap has encouraged Nunavut’s sharing economy. Over the last year, the number of Iqaluit homes advertising on Airbnb.com—the popular website that advertises short-term lodging—has risen to about 20.
Many other Iqaluit homeowners have been renting rooms from their homes for years, through other websites or by word-of-mouth.
For half the price of a hotel room, visitors can stay in Joelle Lavallée’s Apex bed and breakfast, which offers six colourful bedrooms and a view overlooking the bay.
Lavallée has rented out the rooms for the last decade, but only just recently started advertising through Airbnb, to do better outreach and “test out the market,” she said.
With the increase in new spaces opening up on the popular site, the City of Iqaluit is reminding hosts that they are operating a business, and that doing so requires a licence.
“It’s always been the rule,” said Gabrielle Morrill, economic development officer at the City of Iqaluit
“If you have a product or service and you’re selling it, you’re running a business. How you advertise is up to you.”
Morrill said that getting a licence ensures that the business is operated safely; it also gives municipal officials insight into what the city’s needs are so it can tailor its own policies and funding accordingly.
Currently, there are about 400 licensed businesses throughout the city; 150 of them are home-based, but fewer than a dozen of those provide accommodation.
To obtain a licence, business owners have to fill out an application through the city. Typically, the process includes a health and fire inspection of the premises, plus a $250 annual fee.
But when the city’s economic development committee hosted consultations with business owners last year, it heard a number of suggestions on how to simplify the application process and make it more equitable.
Morrill said business owners recommended a sliding fee scale depending on a business’s size or its months of operation, making the application available online and issuing more penalties for non-compliance.
Currently the fine for operating a business without a licence is $250, the same as the cost of purchasing one.
Morrill said the city is drafting a new process, which should go to city council before the end of the year.
“The process is easy enough and the city was pretty good about it,” said Lavallée, who has a licence to run her bed and breakfast.
“This year, I found the city was trying to speed up the process.”
Lavallée said having the licence gives her the peace of mind that her home is rental-ready.
But Iqaluit residents who offer accommodation in their homes also say the city could do more to support and promote their businesses.
Given the shortage of accommodation in recent months, Lavallée said the city could produce a directory of registered hosts in town to put on its website, or make available at a welcome kiosk at the Iqaluit airport.