Bunkies offer glimpse into viability of short-term rentals in Canada

Over the years, a number of Canada’s larger cities have begun to enforce regulations that crack down on short-term rental activity. In Toronto, for example, new rules that came into effect in 2020 ensure that people are only able to list their primary residence as a short-term rental. Other cities such as Vancouver and Ottawa have similar requirements.

According to David Wachsmuth, a Canada research chair in urban governance and associate professor at McGill University in Montreal, these rules are meant to address some of the negative impacts of dedicated short-term rentals on local housing markets. This includes concerns around the availability of housing.

“Municipalities are very strongly turning to regulations that want to limit short-term rentals to people’s principal residences, which says homesharing is good – if you’re away for the weekend or you have a spare bedroom, you should rent it out, that’s a positive sum activity,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Thursday. “But if you want to take housing off the market and operate what’s effectively a hotel, that shouldn’t be allowed.”

In fact, Wachsmuth said there is clear evidence that running full-time short-term rental operations contributes to fewer homes on the market and less affordable housing.

“Dedicated short-term rentals put non-local visitors in competition with local residents for that housing supply,” he said. “If you shrink the amount of housing supply that’s available but you don’t shrink the amount of demand for that housing supply, prices go up.

“The more short-term rentals there are, the higher the prices get.”

One company that’s offering a unique solution to this issue is Bunkie Life. Based just outside of Erin, Ont., Bunkie Life sells DIY kits used to make small log cabins that can be assembled in a matter of days. These cabins, usually found on cottage or home properties and used for extra storage space, can be converted into tiny homes ideal for short-term stays. Kits from Bunkie Life range from about 99 to 225 sq. ft., with prices as low as about $5,500 and as high as $20,000.

“Everyone loves the smell of wood and the feeling of being in a log cabin, there’s something very human and very earthy about it,” said Bunkie Life co-founder David Fraser in a video call with CTVNews.ca on Tuesday. “You’re almost in the environment as opposed to in the house, staring out the window at the environment.”

Founded in 2017 by Fraser and his wife, Karrie, both started the business by building their own bunkies and placing them on short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb, renting them out to others as living space for extra money. After seeing a demand from clients looking to buy bunkies themselves, Fraser pivoted towards producing DIY kits for anyone looking to build their own, he said.

“So many of our clients have purchased bunkies and they’re using them for Airbnbs at their cottage or Airbnbs at their different properties all over Canada,” said Fraser, who explained that many others have gone down a similar path by buying their own bunkie kits, assembling the cabins, and renting them out to others as an additional source of income.

Bunkies, such as those offered by Bunkie Life, are a unique solution to the issues many cities face with short-term rentals, Wachsmuth said. Considering they don’t interfere with housing supply and avoid direct competition with long-term residents while still allowing locals to make money, the result is a win-win situation, he said.

“The bunkie idea is really interesting and represents something a little closer to the spirit of homesharing,” he said. “I’m very convinced that [for] the future viability of short-term rentals, Airbnb as a platform, and other players in this space as well…this is what the short-term rental market is going to need to look like.”


According to a press release from Airbnb on Feb. 3, Canadian hosts earned $7.1 billion through the rental platform since 2010. As of April 30, 2021, the average amount of money made by each host who welcomed at least one guest during the previous year was $9,600. New Airbnb hosts in particular have earned US$6 billion since the start of the pandemic. Of all the listings that were booked in the third quarter of 2021, half of them received their first booking within three days of activation.

“A lot of Canadians have really had to embrace something entrepreneurial since the start of the pandemic in order to make ends meet,” Airbnb spokesperson Matt McNama told CTVNews.ca on Thursday in a video call. “[Hosting] has been an economical lifeline for many Canadians.”

Not only has the pandemic had an impact on personal finances, it’s also led to a shift in behaviour around travelling, McNama said. The rise of remote work has allowed work life and travel to converge, he said, resulting in more people exploring rural communities.

“Travel has become much more local and hyperlocal than it has been in the past, and people like David and Karrie have really exemplified how you can capitalize on that,” he said. “They’re having people across Canada coming to visit Erin, Ontario, as opposed to going to the States or going overseas to Europe.

“What we’re really talking about here is a travel revolution.”

Fraser said he is noticing a similar trend. Much of his company’s clientele involves family-oriented people who typically live in the city but also have a second home or cottage in a rural area, he said, and the COVID-19 pandemic has played a large role in increasing the appeal of a cabin in the woods. Recent data compiled by Statistics Canada also demonstrates that more Canadians have been moving away from urban hubs during the pandemic and towards smaller communities instead.

“The appeal of getting out [of the city] is definitely exponentially expanding,” said Fraser, pointing to more people being confined to their homes as a result of restrictions. “People are moving out of the cities if they can, they’re buying land or buying cottages, or they’re moving to their cottage full-time and just selling their place in the suburbs.”


Fraser said the wave of people that have begun to explore more rural areas across the country is part of a trend he expects to continue after the pandemic is over. As of last year, Bunkie Life has sold 1,000 bunkies and Fraser anticipates the company will sell 1,000 more in 2022 alone, he said. Bunkie kits have already been sold all the way from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland and Labrador.

According to McNama, the pandemic has also had an impact on the duration of short-term trips. Canadians using Airbnb are staying at short-term rental properties for much longer than they were previously, particularly before the pandemic began.

“Gone are the days where we go and do weekender trips,” he said. “Now, we can go for a week, two weeks, three weeks. We can work remotely and live anywhere, and it’s really changed the game.”

McNama expects this behaviour to continue throughout the year as well, he said.

“This is absolutely a trend that’s going to keep going through 2022, at least,” he said. “There’s been a fundamental shift in terms of working remotely with the flexibility that we have in terms of our ability to travel, and it’s something that’s going to keep going.”