What you need to know about Sarnia’s short-term rental regulations

A photo of Sarnia from the water. Photo by David McIntosh/Shutterstock

An appeal against a short-term rental bylaw in Sarnia, Ont., has been dropped due to an inability to find expert witnesses without a conflict of interest, which means new rules are now in place for renters in the largest city on Lake Huron. The short-term rental bylaws were passed by Sarnia’s council back in 2020 but were prevented from coming into effect until last week due to the ongoing appeal. 

Sean Ryan, the man behind the appeal, says he thinks the city should take action to regulate short-term rentals, but he disagrees with the limitations on residentially-zoned rentals. “It’s not the regulations we’re against,” he says “It’s just the one component of it.”

Ryan’s particular issue is with the ban on short-term rentals in residential areas. He argues Sarnia should at least allow rentals in urban residential 2 zones—areas that are already densely populated and used for residential and commercial purposes. “Why not just allow them in those areas? It’s good for tourism and it’s a high-density housing area already, so it’s not going to affect neighbourhoods,” he says.

According to the Steve Henschel, Sarnia’s manger of communications, the residential zoning regulations are in place to protect housing in the city. “Allowing STAs in residential areas with a primary residence requirement protects long-term housing in the city, ensuring residential properties are utilized as homes first.”

Now, Ryan is looking for other ways to make a second appeal against the city’s short-term rental regulations. 

Sarnia implemented a system to grandfather short-term renters operating in residential areas before January 1, 2020. Property owners were supposed to submit an application prior to the July 1, 2020 deadline, but the city received no applications. To date, only 15 of an estimated 70 renters are licenced with the city. “As we move forward with the new bylaw the city will utilize an education-based approach to encourage voluntary compliance, before using other bylaw enforcement mechanisms,” said the Henschel.

What are Sarnia’s short-term rental regulations?

Like many other municipalities, Sarnia implemented a short-term accommodation licencing system as a way to regulate STAs. The city also implemented occupancy limits, building and safety standards, and most notably, restrictions on the operation of short-term rentals in residential areas.

Here are some highlights from the new regulations:

  • Renters must obtain a valid licence granted by the city. The fee for a licence and a licence renewal is $273.65 and applications must be submitted to the city along with building and parking plans. To be approved, licensees must also possess a minimum of $2 million in liability insurance and must complete a fire inspection.
  • Occupancy limits. Rental units can have a maximum of three bedrooms available for rent and each bedroom can sleep up to a maximum of four people.
  • Minimum rental room size of 14 square metres. 
  • Adherence to a submitted parking plan. Property owners must submit a parking plan to the city along with their licence application and ensure that it is followed by patrons.
  • If operating in a residential area, the rental unit must be the owner’s primary residence. Essentially, this limits short-term rentals in residential areas to bed and breakfast style accommodations where the owner lives in the property at the same time as their patrons.
  • Offenders of the bylaw can face fines of $25,000 dollars on a first offence, and fines of $50,000 of subsequent offences.
  • Short-term renters are also subject to the city’s four per cent municipal accommodation tax. The city says this tax will be used to “fund programs and services that visitors take advantage of when visiting (e.g. roads, transit, culture, parks, natural areas and recreation).”

Short-term accommodation applications can be submitted through the city’s website

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