The regulation of short-term rentals is proving to be a popular topic of debate in many municipal elections in cottage country. Short-term rental regulation has been a hot-button issue in many areas of late and candidates are divided on how they would approach regulation.
In recent years, countless communities have implemented new bylaws to reign-in short-term rentals hosted on popular websites. Many communities have brought in licencing programs as a way to monitor short-term rentals and some have taken stronger measures such as implementing strict zoning regulations, demerit systems and setting limits for the number of licences available. These regulations have often been introduced to address concerns from residents about excessive noise and unruly parties.
Due to the spike in cottage prices that has held steady, operating a short-term cottage rental is becoming an increasingly popular route to cottage ownership, and the influx of short-term rentals has made the cottage experience accessible to those who are unable to afford a cottage property. However in some communities like London, Ont. the vacancy rates for short-term rentals are much higher than long-term housing options like apartments, where there is a shortage. With local elections on the horizon, many current and prospective municipal candidates are weighing in with their takes on short-term rental regulation. Here is a glimpse at the conversations being had in three municipal ridings in Ontario.
Candidates for Selwyn town council put forward their thoughts on short-term rental regulations in a Sept. 29 debate. The five candidates who spoke on the issue all supported short-term rental regulation, but disagreed on what measures should be put in place.
Brian Henry, a candidate for Smith Ward, was the lone speaker not to announce his support for a short-term rental licencing program. Henry suggested the township continue to implement an escalating fine for offending short-term rental operators. “There are only a handful of short-term rentals that are problematic within the area. Activating our bylaw office, fining the individuals, and hitting them in the wallet will definitely have an impact on the problem renters,” he says.
The other candidates all stated their support for a licencing system. Ennismore Ward candidate Gail Moorehouse pointed to the licencing programs in place in Prince Edward County and Huntsville as examples of what could be done in Selwyn. “I think what we’ve done is a Band-Aid solution,” Moorehouse said. “We are not addressing the problem.”
Mary Coulas, Ennismore Ward hopeful, and John Boyko, candidate for Lakefield Ward, both stressed the need for public consultation on the matter. Boyko noted that many cottage owners rely on their rental income to afford their properties and argued that should be taken into consideration when implementing a licencing program. “We can’t put them out of their cottages by making these licences too expensive or the regulations onerous,” Boyko said.
Mayoral and council candidates for Niagara-on-the-Lake took on the subject of short-term rental regulations in a Sept. 28 debate. The topic emerged during a conversation on affordable housing, and candidates were asked directly about their support for regulation.
Council hopeful Nick Ruller suggested the town look into the effects of short-term rentals on the availability of long-term rentals. “They are intertwined and there are direct relationships between the two,” he said. Likewise, incumbent councillor Wendy Cheropita suggested short-term rental bylaws could be a solution to unaffordable housing in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Short-term rentals have been beneficial for visitors and property owners, Cheropita said, but some “bad actors” have caused problems that need to be remedied through regulation.
Allan Bisback, an incumbent councilor, argued that short-term rentals have a place in Niagara-on-the-Lake. However, Bisback stressed the need to differentiate bed and breakfasts (where hosts live in the property alongside their guests) from short-term rentals (which are often unhosted), a sentiment echoed by incumbent Gary Burroughs. “I actually think they improve the experience on Niagara-on-the-Lake,” said Bisback. “But I actually think we need to be very careful on how we categorize short-term rentals.”
In a Sept. 29 debate, Huntsville mayoral candidates were asked for their thoughts on the town’s approach to short-term rentals. The town currently operates a short-term rental licencing program and enforces a four per cent Municipal Accommodation Tax.
Candidate Nancy Alcock said she supports the existing licencing program but would like to review the town’s approach to commercial short-term rental owners. “If it means that we have more stringent penalties or a ‘one-strike and you’re out’ policy, then so be it,” she says. Candidates Stephen Hernen and Reuben Pyette-Bouillon took aim at “absentee operators” of short-term rentals. While Hernen called for a zero-tolerance approach to infractions for owners and occupants, Pyette-Bouillon suggested the town eliminate unhosted short-term rentals. “I’m all for Airbnbs, I think they’re a great opportunity, but I think they need to be owner-occupied,” Pyette-Bouillon said. Mayoral hopeful Tim Withey suggested Huntsville regulate the number of short-term rentals allowed in the town. “I see certain neighborhoods that have completely changed because there are so many of these short-term rentals in the neighborhood that the community fabric is gone and that’s something that I think shouldn’t happen,” he said.
Municipal elections in Ontario are set for Oct. 24. Here’s why you should vote.