Gravenhurst considers regulating short-term rentals

Gravenhurst Photo by Shutterstock/Gilberto Mesquita

On November 17, during a Committee of the Whole meeting, councillors for the Town of Gravenhurst voted in favour of creating an information campaign around short-term rentals (STR) and investigating the implications of regulating them.

Currently, Gravenhurst’s bylaws control short-term rental activity, but there are no bans or regulations specifically designed to police them. As a result, the town has received complaints about renters’ behaviour. John Cooper, president of the Sparrow Lake Association, spoke to council about this during the November 17 meeting, advocating for more to be done.

He suggested council look to the Muskoka Lakes Association’s (MLA) Good Neighbour Code as a guideline for expectations around renters and short-term rental operators’ behaviour. “This list of 15 ‘I wills’ is an amazing seasonal resident guideline that is not in any way restricting or fun-destroying,” Cooper said. “Both the Town of Huntsville and the Township of Muskoka Lakes have codes of conduct modelled after the MLA Good Neighbour Code built into their STR bylaws.”

The code lists 15 proclamations designed to keep neighbours accountable to one another, including keeping noise and music down, sharing the waterfront, alerting neighbours if you’re throwing a party, and obeying fire bans, among others.

The information presented by Cooper was augmented by an in-depth report from town staff. The report detailed public concerns about short-term rentals, but also stated that: “There is little empirical evidence in the form of bylaw complaints to suggest that the use of shoreline dwellings as STRs is a prolific issue or that the current policies are failing to address the concerns that do get raised by neighbouring property owners.”

Dustin Gronc, a manager of bylaw services for the town, however, did acknowledge that due to the limited number of bylaw officers for the Gravenhurst area, they weren’t always able to respond to short-term rental complaints right away, especially late at night.

To deal with short-term rental issues, the report presented council with three recommendations: ban them, regulate them, or create an information campaign. Council determined the best course of action was to create an information campaign based on the MLA Good Neighbour Code that would be distributed to residents. A second directive was also issued by council, asking town staff to create a report that outlines what would be involved in regulating short-term rentals.

Scott Lucas, the town’s director of community growth and development, says that the information campaign will be released in the spring of 2021. “It’s a relatively seasonal issue,” he said of short-term rentals. “So, we’re sort of preparing, getting our ducks in a row for the spring next year, and then we’ll run that campaign throughout the summer.”

Lucas added that community engagement will be part of the campaign, both educating the community on short-term rental issues and asking for feedback through the town’s new community engagement platform, Engage Gravenhurst.

In terms of distributing the information, Lucas said they’ll likely utilize different mediums while also relying heavily on their relationships with lake associations.

The report on regulating short-term rentals, however, likely won’t appear before council until next fall at the earliest, Lucas says. Town staff will use the summer months—when short-term rentals are most active—to collect community feedback. They’ll then create a detailed list of the pros and cons of regulating short-term rentals and present it to council.

“It’s a touchy subject, that’s for sure,” Lucas said. “And we’re certainly not alone. We’re watching other areas of the province and beyond and how they’re handling this stuff. It’s really challenging.”

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