Bracebridge Town Council votes against short-term rental freeze

Bracebridge, Ont. Photo by Shutterstock/John Fader

After a lengthy discussion on April 27, Bracebridge’s town council voted against implementing an interim control bylaw for short-term rentals.

The interim control bylaw, which was debated back and forth by council over the last two months, would have frozen all short-term rentals for a period of one year with the ability to extend the freeze to a second year. During this time, owners would not have been allowed to operate a rental. If an owner refused to comply with this bylaw, they would have been charged under the town’s Planning Act, requiring them to appear in court with the possibility of receiving a maximum fine of $25,000.

During its deliberation, council heard from several stakeholders, including local short-term rental owners. Catharine Thompson, owner of Cozy Cottages of Muskoka, was first to address council. She explained how these rentals were used for more than just parties, describing a woman abused by her husband who was now using one of Thompson’s rentals as a refuge. She also described a family who had to vacate their home because of mould, but couldn’t stay in a hotel because of their two large dogs. Freezing short-term rentals would leave these individuals with nowhere to stay, she said.

Cheryl MacMillan, another local owner, pointed out that if council chose to license the rentals rather than freeze them, the town could collect a Municipal Accommodation Tax from owners, which would go towards issues such as affordable housing or further enforcing short-term rental compliance.

“We have made a commitment to the public that there will be increased enforcement. I think enforcement is the way to go, and I think a bylaw that suggests that short-term rentals have to be registered, as we heard from pretty much all of the delegations tonight, and licensed and bring some teeth to that is an absolute must,” said Deputy Mayor Rick Maloney during the April 27 town council meeting. “A full stop to short-term rentals will have a detrimental effect on many people.”

Instead of a freeze, council amended the motion, voting to create a mandatory registry for all short-term rentals. Town staff will use the registry to collect data on these current rentals, which will inform future changes to the town’s official plan, zoning bylaws, and a short-term rental licensing program.

To assist town staff, council voted to hire a consultant tasked with creating a short-term rental program by the end of 2022.

During a planning and development committee meeting on March 30, Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith also pointed out that bylaw received a budget increase this year to extend the department’s coverage to evenings and weekends, when most of the rental complaints are lodged. Noise complaint fines, which range between $250 and $300, will be in effect.

“At the end of the day, this is about behaviour,” Maloney said during the April 27 meeting. Out of the approximate 300 short-term rentals in Bracebridge, only a small portion are causing problems, which is why it isn’t fair to punish everyone with a freeze, he said. It’s time to “put some of the responsibility back on the people causing…the challenges.”

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