During a city council meeting on February 22, Port Colborne councillors voted to introduce a voluntary registration program for short-term rental owners in the area. The city has been grappling with how to handle short-term rentals, including cottage rentals, since March 2020, when the issue first arose at city hall.
According to a staff report, there are an estimated 200 short-term rental properties in the Port Colborne area. Between June 1 and Labour Day 2021, the municipality received 53 complaints directly related to cottage rentals. Surrounding areas, such as Niagara, have begun introducing licensing measures, putting pressure on Port Colborne to take similar steps.
During a previous meeting, councillors tasked city staff with developing a proposal for a licensing program, one that could see rental owners lose their right to list their property if they had too many bylaw infractions.
In the staff report presented to the council, city clerk Amber LaPointe pointed out that this type of program would cost the city approximately $175,000 per year.
“What I was asking for was two staff members, one in licensing and then one in bylaws,” LaPointe said over the phone. “The bylaws staff would need a vehicle as well to be able to do that enforcement, so we estimated that would be the cost of the licensing regime.”
During the council meeting, it was also pointed out that bylaw only operates within certain hours. The police handle any complaints outside of those hours. But fire chief Scott Lawson said that bylaw can still fine rental owners off of a police report. The fine for a noise infraction currently sits at $201.
On top of stricter bylaw enforcement, a licensing program would also require city staff to continuously comb through booking sites, such as Airbnb and VRBO, to check for unlicensed cottage rentals.
“The biggest concern with licensing is that we will just be bogged down with paperwork in licensing all the ‘good guys,’ should we say, and won’t actually be able to capture the people who need to be licensed and won’t be able to enforce licensing with them,” LaPointe said during the February 22 meeting.
As a result, the licensing program was dismissed. Councillor Harry Wells proposed the voluntary registration program as an alternative. The program will include an education campaign that targets rental owners, neighbours, and the renters themselves.
“The purpose that staff feels this registration will have is building a strong relationship with those target groups, and just having that open communication with those renters, so we can provide them information and get information from them,” LaPointe said.
There will be no consequences for rental owners who choose not to register, but a rental property that appears on bylaw’s radar may be added to the list.
The voluntary registration program is set to start in mid-April. Owners who want to register will be able to do so on the Port Colborne website.
LaPointe said that city staff will monitor the program over the summer and report back to council with any findings in September.