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Directors debate short-term rental regulation

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Temporary use permits are being seen as a strong option when it comes to regulating short-term rentals like Airbnbs in the rural areas of the Sunshine Coast.

Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors weighed numerous regulatory options at a March 8 committee meeting, including business licences, broad zoning approval, site-specific zoning and temporary use permits.

Staff will present draft bylaw amendments in the fall of 2018 that include short-term rental definitions, proposed fines for unauthorized short-term and vacation rentals, and consideration of temporary use permits for short-term rentals.

A report analyzing public engagement feedback and analysis for moving forward with short-term rental regulations found there to be overall support for short-term rentals on the Coast, “although regulations need to be applied to reduce negative impacts,” said senior planner David Rafael. Currently there is no definition of short-term rentals in SCRD land-use bylaws.

At the committee, discussions focused on temporary use permits, which give permission for uses that fall outside what’s permissible under a zoning bylaw. They can be valid for up to three years and set conditions for use, and there is no obligation for renewal.

Area A director Frank Mauro speculated that temporary use permits have some appeal because renewal conditions could be used as an enforcement tool. He also said it would be a “mistake” to rely on business licences. “It would basically kill small businesses that we all have in rural areas that thrive.” He also supported a Coast-wide common regulation on short-term rentals.

Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr noted consistency is key, including with the Coast’s municipalities.

“I want us to be very careful about the interpretation of perpetual renewals or new permits every three years. I think we’re going to want to have some discussion regionally around that and also legally,” said Sechelt director Bruce Milne.

He also suggested that a uniform policy across the Coast is unlikely. “I suspect the District of Sechelt will want a stronger and tighter regulation on short-term rentals than what I’m hearing from rural areas.”

There is also no quantitative data analyzing how short-term rentals impact the long-term rental market on the Coast, but public consultations revealed cases of tenants being evicted due to landlords’ decisions to turn spaces into vacation rentals, among other reasons.

Another problem raised was that that the conversion of dwellings from long-term to short-term rentals could reduce the number of affordable options for long-term renters by reducing supply on the whole. Staff found that 50 per cent of renters are in unaffordable accommodation on the Coast – they spend more than 30 per cent of their gross income on housing. They also found that the biggest use of rental income earned by landlords was to offset housing costs, such as mortgages and bills.

Directors also extensively discussed housing densification at the committee, choosing to postpone a staff recommendation for a second reading on amendments to official community plans for Pender Harbour and Egmont, Halfmoon Bay, Roberts Creek, Elphinstone and West Howe Sound.