On October 18, Kim Pressnail addressed over 250 Oro-Medonte residents packed into a 200-seat lecture hall at Lakehead University’s Orillia campus. Pressnail, a resident of Oro-Medonte himself and a civil engineering professor at the University of Toronto, spoke about the disruptive spread of short-term rentals throughout their community.
“My agenda,” he says, “was to inform the residents of Oro-Medonte, this is what you face.”
Pressnail was joined on stage by David Johnston, a York University business professor, and Gord Knox, a retired planner. In the audience sat Oro-Medonte’s mayor, deputy mayor, and three council members.
The community’s issues with short-term rentals started in 2017. People from outside Oro-Medonte began buying up real estate in residential zones, using them for commercial interests, or as “ghost hotels,” as Pressnail puts it. “People don’t live there,” he says. “The properties are bought specifically to rent on a short-term rental basis.”
The operators charge between $1,000 to $1,500 a night, and as many as 20 people—Pressnail says 20 is not an exaggeration—cram themselves into a four-bedroom cottage and spend the weekend partying.
It’s gotten so bad that one of the residents, a man who spent two years fighting against a short-term rental next door to him, moved away. “He just packed up and sold.”
Pressnail clarifies that the rentals the community is upset about are not traditional rentals, such as a bed and breakfast or a family that rents their cottage out to friends for a week or two each summer. People are concerned about commercial interests where the owner does not live there or spend time there.
Other Ontario communities, such as Huntsville and Blue Mountain, have allowed short-term rentals because of the tourism benefit, but David Johnston, at the October 18 meeting, made it clear that these rentals are bringing no tourism benefit to Oro-Medonte. “We’re a bunch of lakefront properties and rural residential properties,” Pressnail says. “The people who come here aren’t tourists. They don’t spend dollars. They come, party, leave.”
In June 2018, the Oro-Medonte municipal government passed an interim control bylaw, meaning no new short-term rentals were allowed to start up. This was the government’s way of preventing the spread until it had figured out how to handle the short-term rentals. The interim control bylaw was renewed for another year in June 2019.
Pressnail, however, claims that the interim control bylaw is not being enforced and that the number of short-term rentals has continued to grow since 2017. “There are 26 that I know of,” he says. “There are probably more. Probably 30 or 35, but I know of personally 26 disruptive rentals to the point where the neighbours are really upset.”
The Oro-Medonte government has proposed licensing the short-term rentals, similar to a system put in place in the Town of the Blue Mountains. But a licensing effort could cost upwards of $1 million and doesn’t address how to curb disruptive behaviour beyond revoking a rental operator’s licence after the fact.
Pressnail says a good place to start would be to enforce the zoning bylaws. At the October 18 meeting, Gord Knox clarified that commercial interests like short-term rentals that are operating in residential zones are illegal.
Other solutions have been proposed, such as banning rentals that are shorter than seven days. “Chances are you’re not going to be able to get twenty 30-year-old people in to party for seven days,” Pressnail says.
Another option is to mirror Collingwood’s complaint-made system. “If you wanted to rent your home the way you always have, you can, as long as there are no complaints,” Pressnail says. “But if you start disrupting your neighbours, then all of a sudden the township is going to look at you and say, ‘You’re not supposed to be doing this.’” This method tends to be reactive, however, similar to licensing.
To assist the Oro-Medonte municipality with its decision on how to deal with the short-term rentals, Pressnail says that he and a few residents will provide the government with Gord Knox’s expert planning opinion as well as a legal opinion. “They’re floundering with this,” he says. “And as you could imagine, there’s all kinds of interests at work.”