After months of consultation, reports and more decisions to come, Sechelt council has refined some definitions for short-term rentals.
At the June 15 meeting, staff presented recommendations for preparing amendments to three bylaws: the zoning bylaw, the business licence bylaw, and the notice of enforcement implementation bylaw which includes a provision for fines. Staff also asked for direction from council to develop a temporary use permit implementation program that includes a two-year monitoring program.
Council confirmed the three categories considered for short-term rental business licences in the District: Principal residence, a rental accessory (which may be a suite or additional dwelling) and secondary residence (formerly referred to as “commercial”). The secondary residence category, where the property owner is not present on-site, would require a temporary use permit.
Andrew Allen, director of planning and development for Sechelt, said staff will have to report back at a future meeting about how to manage temporary use permits and how many will be available. Two reports are expected to be brought forward regarding the zoning bylaw in July to summarize the public engagement comments, with second reading at a July 20 meeting.
Allen said Sechelt is taking a regional approach, and has looked at the Town of Gibsons’s decisions.
“Gibsons, I would suggest, is taking a quite strong stance in terms of allowing short-term rentals. Sechelt does have certainly a long history of tourism and we’ve heard from Sunshine Coast tourism, we’ve heard from operators. That said, we’ve also heard from property owners, residents within neighborhoods who feel affected and impacted negatively by operations. So it’s a complex decision. It’s been an interesting process,” Allen said.
Coun. Matt McLean thanked staff for a “straightforward” set of bylaws and policies, but suggested tweaks still needed to be made. He raised concerns about the large number of secondary homes, and asked whether Sechelt wants them to be sold off, sit empty or be used as AirBnBs.
“The number one thing I want to see happen with these is facilitate a greater number of rental units, full-time, long-term rental units. And this bylaw does have some room for that. It has the option of if you are a renter, you can be the operator of a short-term rental on the same property. I think this is probably the most important part of this bylaw that we’re moving forward,” McLean said. But, he added, that use is a “nuanced aspect” of the bylaw, and said they need to make that option clear.
McLean presented his own prepared amendments, and sought to clarify the definition of who can be a short-term rental operator. Coun. Eric Scott said he liked the concept, but asked how to ensure it had “teeth.” Counc. Alton Toth pointed out that a written record would be required if the tenant is the operator.
After staff suggested more words could introduce the possibility of more ways of interpretation, and discussion got “into the weeds,” McLean’s first motion was defeated by a nearly unanimous vote, with only McLean in favour. A second motion by McLean to define a short-term secondary residence as a “dwelling unit that is not a short-term rental operator’s principal residence. It is a vacation rental, investment property, or occasional home” passed.
Another amendment suggested by McLean was nearly a direct copy from Gibsons’s policy: “The District of Sechelt may refuse to grant a Licence for Short-Term Rental if the applicant has a history of bylaw offences or unpaid fines.” That motion, too, was passed.
McLean’s fourth suggestion, to require short-term rentals to provide information on water restrictions, campfire bans, municipal quiet hours and waste disposal — essentially how to be a good visitor — was defeated in a four-to-three vote, after Coun. Tom Lamb suggested it be included as a recommendation to operators. Mayor Darnelda Siegers suggested the Sunshine Coast Tourism could manage such an information package.
Fines and fees
Siegers asked about the suggested $500 fine, and whether that charge could be per day or up to a maximum of $500. Allen confirmed that they could fine an operator again if they did not comply or pay a fine, and the fines could be applied per day, but there is discretion and fairness in the application of enforcement. Earlier in the meeting, Allen said it’s best practice in bylaw enforcement to always seek compliance as the first option and only use fines as a means to accomplish goals.
A previous recommendation included three proposed rates for application fees: $500 per year for rooms in a home, $900 for self-contained suites on a property, and $3,000 for a secondary residence (or more than two self-contained suites), but this report presented only the $500 and $3,000 rates. When asked about the reduction, staff said it had become quite subjective, and asked to streamline the fee structure to two options: a rental on the property the operator lives on or a secondary residence. A temporary use permit, required for a secondary residence, is suggested to have a $1,800 application fee. After discussion, council decided to retain the three rates.
Scott said he thinks they need to acknowledge the BnB (bed and breakfast) operations that offer rooms for rent, and would like to keep three application fees. Coun. Janice Kuester said she agreed with Scott.
Scott also asked to clarify that a short-term rental with more than two units would qualify for the commercial fee, but does not require a temporary use permit if the principal resident is living on site. This sparked discussion about the suggested 15 temporary use permits, and what criteria Sechelt will use to determine the recipients. Scott spoke in favour of the opportunity, through the TUPs, to make sure they are spread out in the community and to consider form and fit. That number could be changed, Siegers said.
When McLean asked if implementation was still expected to start in January 2023, staff said the timing is complicated with the upcoming fall election. Allen said a perfect world would see the temporary use permit regulations adopted in September.