My mom sold our family cottage 11 years ago. Since then, I’ve rented with my own brood, first a little cabin south of Algonquin Provincial Park and then, for five years, a cottage on the shores of Lake Huron. The owners of the Huron place named it “Slice of Heaven,” and was it ever. We loved it there. I’d first visited that beach as a teen, as a guest of a friend’s family who rented there (“Rest Awhile”). The whole sandy strip is imbued with deep, fond memories for me. That history and my memories there helped make Slice of Heaven feel like mine. It was there I kept time by the sun, ate (too many) ice cream cones with my kids on the deck, and did jigsaw puzzles in my pajamas until the middle of the night.
But, of course, it wasn’t really mine, a truth made plain when the owner declined to rent it to us last summer, with no explanation given.
I always thought we were exemplary renters— it’s my job to train people on such things. Your voice carries at night! Remember the septic! Bears love garbage! Giving this advice is something we’ve taken particularly seriously these past few years as the rental market has exploded. It’s not hard to be a good neighbour, and, for the most part, that’s all you need to be when you are renting. Don’t assume, ask. Be kind. Remember you’re not the only ones on the lake. Share. In my experience, most renters adhere to these principles and respect their borrowed vacation homes. Most cottage owners are responsible too—they let their tenants know the dos and don’ts, and they are available if things go awry.
Sadly, it doesn’t always work. Each time I get a letter from a cottager who is frustrated by the noise and disruption caused by the party cottage down the bay, I feel terribly for them. I feel even worse when those party renters cause trouble for the environment—the baby loon chicks they threaten when they drive too fast in their boats, too close to shore, or the water issues caused by using shampoo in the lake. Our advice to these irate cottagers is always the same—speak to the cottage owners. Because while it’s easy to be upset with the renters, ultimately, it’s the owners who are to blame. If you’re the one profiting from renting out your cottage, it shouldn’t be your lake-mates’ work to manage the fallout from that profit.
There are numerous, easily accessible resources available for renters and cottage owners, including the excellent Guide to Responsible Renting on the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations’ website. FOCA is doing great work to ensure that renting happens in a safe and reasonable way. As with many things, education is everything. I certainly prefer it to more restrictions, something we’ve seen an uptick in recently. I think some owners are skeptical about renters because cottagers are so passionate about their environment, and thank goodness—cottagers are some of the most committed environmental stewards we have. However, while cottagers make up an important part of our lakeside communities, they don’t own the lakes. Those belong to everyone. For the majority of Canadians, renting a cottage is one of the only ways to meaningfully access cottage country. As such, we need to ensure that access and that we all take care of our most precious resource.
I was sad that we couldn’t visit the beach this summer. We loved our rental there as we would have loved our own cottage—and treated it that way. Who knows where we’ll end up next summer? I’m trying to think of the end of our tenure as nothing more than an opportunity to find a new place to love and care for. Just as any responsible renter would.
This story originally appeared in our Sept/Oct ’22 issue.
Want to learn more about short-term rentals? See Michelle Kelly in conversation with FOCA executive director, Terry Rees, at the 2022 Fall Cottage Life Show (November 11-13 at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont.). Michelle and Terry will be on the Main Stage Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 pm. Buy your tickets now.