Like many Ontario municipalities, Seguin Township is confronting the question of short-term cottage rentals and how to regulate them. Discussions around regulation in Seguin have been ongoing since 2017, and as of June 26, the Township has opened the question to public consultation, which will run until August 21.
Under the current zoning bylaw, the township does not permit cottage rentals on waterfront properties, says Daryle Moffatt, a Seguin Township councillor. These areas are zoned for residential properties. But that hasn’t stopped short-term cottage rentals from popping up in the area, advertising on sites such as Airbnb.
As a result, the township has had to deal with issues of noise, excessive parking, unsafe boating, and over-stressed septic systems—some even leaking into the lakes. “All of a sudden, a three-bedroom place has 15 people and one washroom,” Moffatt says. “That gets the neighbours going: ‘I’m not putting up with this.’”
The current bylaw is meant to regulate these commercial rentals, but is only effective if a complaint is lodged.
Kerry Mueller, president and communications director for the Otter Lake Ratepayers Association, says she is seeing more and more properties bought for the purpose of short-term cottage rentals, unleashing a “revolving door of strangers on the community.”
“In the past, Seguin hasn’t been very vocal about the fact that their bylaw doesn’t allow for short-term renting,” she says. “It’s only in the last few years that it’s been enforcing that bylaw. So, this is the time now when they want to really make it clear, and we’re hoping that they will be prohibiting making the lakeshore community a commercial short-term rental business zone. It should be residential as it’s zoned now.”
To help navigate the regulation decision, the township has employed Leo Longo, a Toronto lawyer who has advised other municipalities on short-term rentals, such as Blue Mountain. According to Moffatt, Longo has recommended the township define what a short-term rental constitutes. In response, the township has created the phrase “short-term accommodation,” which will be added to the zoning bylaw. It is defined as:
“The commercial use of any type of cottage, dwelling, or dwelling unit, or part thereof, that operates as or offers a place of temporary accommodation or occupancy by way of concession, permit, lease, licence, rental agreement, or other similar commercial arrangement for any period less than twenty-eight consecutive calendar days, throughout all or any part of a calendar year. Short term accommodation uses shall not mean or include other defined commercial uses such as a cabin rental establishment, hotel, motel, summer camp, and tourist camp, or tourist establishment.”
While this bylaw change, if approved, may placate some disgruntled neighbours, not everyone is happy with the proposal. “There is a need to have vacation rentals available for people,” says Lee-Ann Turner, who operates a guest house in Parry Sound, “to support tourism or to support industries that requires housing for short or long term…It really narrows down your window of opportunity.”
According to Turner, there is a lot of demand for rentals in cottage country. Her business, for instance, primarily caters to contract health care and education professionals. She argues that if cottage communities continue to ban short-term rentals, they risk ostracizing professionals coming to work in their municipalities short-term—not to mention the added tourism revenue visitors bring.
Whether the township decides to restrict short-term rentals or not, Mueller says it’s time Seguin made a decision about how it wants to promote its community. “It’s either going to be families owning and investing in their residential lake-front property, or it could turn into commercial, short-term ownership,” she says. “They need to take a stand and be clear about what it is so that people know.”
Under Longo’s guidance, the township is also proposing to loosen bylaws around short-term accommodation rather than restrict them. Specifically, the change would allow family and close friends to use a property owner’s cottage for less than 28 days. The property owner would still be responsible for the guests and no money would be allowed to change hands, but Moffatt says the guests would be allowed to chip in for things like property maintenance costs. For example, he says, if it’s going to cost $5,000 to repair your cottage roof, and your brother uses your cottage for a couple of weeks a year, you could ask him to share in the cost.
If this proposal is passed, regulation of these guests or any commercial rentals that pop up would still be dealt with on a complaint basis, Moffatt says.