As of 12:01 a.m. today, the Ontario government has allowed the reopening of short-term rentals. Minister of Economic Development Victor Fedeli announced the news over Twitter. “Short term rentals including lodges, cabins, cottages, homes, condominiums, and B&Bs will be allowed to resume operations in Ontario starting June 5 at 12:01 a.m.,” he wrote.
The short-term rental ban has been in place for two months, implemented on April 4 under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The reopening comes as welcome news to rental companies in cottage country. With many of them operating seasonally, the majority of their revenue is earned during July and August. If the ban had continued, they faced a reservation-less summer and potential bankruptcy.
“We’ve been in an absolute state of anxiety not able to make any plans,” says Debra Park who operates The Oaks Cottages, a rental company in Tichborne, Ont. Previous to the announcement, she and co-operator Steven Mack had written to Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, Lisa MacLeod, about their situation.
“Prior to the Pandemic, we were on track to earn $134,000 + for the 2020 season. With the closure of the USA/Canada border and the Province of Ontario’s State of Emergency restrictions, our income is nil,” they wrote.
With the ban lifted, The Oaks Cottages will be able to start accepting reservations for the rest of the summer. “We’ve been inundated with requests,” Park says. “It looks like there’s a pent-up demand here for Canadians—definitely locally. We’re getting an awful lot [of reservations] from the local area.” The Oaks Cottages is approximately an hour drive from Kingston and an hour and a half from Ottawa.
With the border between Canada and the U.S. still closed, Park is hoping that these local bookings will fill the gap left by American visitors. “I’d say 60 per cent of our bookings in August are Americans.”
Regardless of where the guests are travelling from, The Oaks Cottages is implementing extra precautions to ensure a safe reopening. “We’re lucky in that we have separate cottages,” Park says. “They all have their own barbecues, their own decks, their own tables. It’s going to be when [guests] are going down to our shoreline, to the beach and the boardwalk and the docks that we’ll have to practice social distancing.” This is on top of rigorous cleaning procedures.
In the meantime, Park is waiting for Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario to release its protocols on how rentals should handle guests amidst COVID-19. “It has protocols which are very specific to our sector, and it’s getting them vetted by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.”
Park recognizes that even with the reopening, it doesn’t mean business will be back to normal this summer. Most reservations are made months in advance. With such short notice, people interested in renting a cottage may have trouble arranging plans and booking off work, but “at least it gives us a chance,” she says. “Before, we were just dangling in the wind.”