Local governments have been handed a mandate from some of the fiercest housing advocacy voices on the Sunshine Coast: regulate short-term rentals (STR) and do it consistently.
The call was made in an April 15 letter signed by the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society, Resource Centre and Community Futures, and five affordable housing and community groups, which identify regulating STRs as a “near term” solution to the crisis.
All boards reviewed the letter and “deemed that short-term rental regulations should be a priority on the Sunshine Coast,” said Kim Darwin, mortgage broker and co-founder of the Coastal Workforce Housing Society, at a May 5 District of Sechelt council meeting where she presented the letter with society chair David Reed.
The signatories are also involved in the Sunshine Coast Housing Action Table, which emerged from emergency housing meetings organized by the District of Sechelt earlier this spring.
Among the six ideas for regulating STRs included in the letter was to ban short-term rentals without on-site operators.
Other ideas included:
• Use zoning, property size and parking space availability to regulate the number of “sleeping units.”
• Make rules around the number of guests per bedroom.
• Establish a streamlined complaint process.
• Make penalties “sufficient to discourage non-compliance.”
• “Develop a means for enforcement.”
At the May 5 meeting, Darwin said “several times per week” she speaks with people facing eviction who can’t qualify for mortgages even though the rent they pay exceeds would-be mortgage costs.
The lack of affordable housing has led to a loss of working-age people and challenges for local employers to keep skilled employees “as a direct result of a shortage of rental homes,” she said.
Regulating short-term rentals “will put us one step closer to preserving local long-term rental housing stock and preserving the quality of our residential neighbourhoods,” she said.
Darwin also debunked what she described as a myth that STRs act as mortgage helpers.
“It’s a swear word for the lenders,” she said, because it’s not an acceptable source of income to qualify for residential mortgages.
Reed noted over the three years of the society’s existence, they have yet to locate affordable land.
“We’ve come to the realization that short-term rentals have taken over most of the available rentals in this very fragile market,” he said. “The time for studying STRs is over. It’s now time to act.”
To make his point, he referenced a recent conversation with the human resources director at Sechelt Hospital. “I asked her what depth and need did she have for housing. She replied if you had 30 units, I would take them right now.”
Reed also called for a “consistent policy” across the Coast for short-term rentals to prevent confusion.
The Town of Gibsons is working on its short-term rental bylaw regulations. Currently, the municipality requires that operators obtain an annual business licence and only regulates bed and breakfasts.
Last fall Sunshine Coast Regional District directors adopted changes to regulations around bed and breakfasts and STRs in its zoning bylaws. The changes regulate the number of bedrooms based on property size, and require an on-site operator. Guests are also limited to two per bedroom.
The District of Sechelt regulates short-term rentals through its business licence bylaw and recently passed a motion to look at hiring a consultant with the aim of drafting a separate short-term rental regulation bylaw by the end of the year.
Following the presentation, Mayor Darnelda Siegers said council recognizes the community is asking for an STR bylaw that “we can actually enforce,” noting Tofino hired five bylaw officers after adopting its bylaw.
“There is a cost to it,” Siegers said, “so part of what we need to do is make sure that we put in something that we can enforce, and that the community can live with.”