Public frustration grows over short-term rentals

Sechelt

The District of Sechelt is facing growing frustration from neighbours who’ve been calling for bylaw enforcement to crack down on a property being used for short-term rentals (STR) in West Porpoise Bay.

Concerns about the property, which is not being specifically identified by Sechelt staff, were raised at the June 6 council meeting, where councillors voted to have staff “review current bylaw complaints pertaining to short-term rentals and bring back a report with further information outlining current regulations.”

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That report was delivered at the July 4 council meeting.

Director of planning Tracy Corbett said the property that’s been generating complaints was violating several district bylaws.

“The owners have continued to operate illegally despite communications from the District to cease operations… The District has moved into Bylaw Enforcement actions on this property,” the report said.

Council’s reaction focused on whether short-term rentals are having an impact on the conventional rental market, how to deal with complaints and whether better regulations are needed.

Corbett’s report said there is not a direct correlation between homes used for short-term rentals and loss of rental units, but some councillors said they’ve been hearing a different story from Sechelt residents.

“We know the impact is large, anecdotally,” said Coun. Noel Muller. “Anybody who’s come up against the affordability crisis, they put the blame squarely on short-term rentals.”

Coun. Alice Lutes, who put forward the motion requesting the report, said it raises as many questions as it answers. “We all hear from workers in the community who are having a terrible time finding rentals, and this feeds into it.”

Coun. Darnelda Siegers said the recent work of the Sunshine Coast Regional District shows the connection might not be as strong as people think. “They assumed that removing short-term rentals would translate to more long-term rentals. When they actually polled their residents they found that wasn’t the case. Many people who had short-term rentals did not want to have long-term renters.”

Mayor Bruce Milne said, “There is a direct correlation between what I would call the monetization of private properties and prices and price affordability of those houses. As soon as you turn residential properties into investment vehicles … you’re changing the price structure and we’ve got to take that quite seriously.”

According to Corbett’s report, there are 153 active Airbnb listings in Sechelt. Sixty per cent are from people operating with a business licence, and there have been relatively few bylaw complaints.

That was another point on which councillors said they’re hearing something different in the community.

“The issues that I hear about are parking … and, of course, noise,” said Coun. Darren Inkster.

Coun. Doug Wright said the weaknesses of a complaint-driven bylaw system could make the issue seem less serious. “After 4:30 on a Friday afternoon there is nobody to complain to, and a lot of these rentals are taking place on the weekend… I just don’t think people are getting through with their complaints.”

Councillors did not, however, put forward any recommendations for tougher regulations.

Muller suggested getting to work on something soon, despite the upcoming election cycle. “We know what the issues are. We just have to come up with a really clear way to address it and find the balance.” Muller and other councillors said it would be worth taking a close look at initiatives being followed in Whistler and Tofino.

Siegers said the first task would be to get more information. “I personally don’t think we have enough information from our community. Given that we have few complaints, how much is the community upset about this? We hear anecdotally about issues … but nobody really actually files any complaints. I think we need to go out to our community and see where they want us to go on this.”

Inkster added that based on the district’s experience drafting the existing rules, it will be important to have tourism operators involved.

In the end councillors asked staff to bring ideas forward that would include a workshop involving tourism operators and other stakeholders.

During the question and answer session at the end of the meeting, it was clear that what many in the public gallery wanted to see was a tougher stance on bylaw violators, and they wanted it right away.

One woman told councillors, “I would just like you to know that since the June 6 council meeting, we have been faced with 59 renters’ vehicles parked overnight, and after nine-and-a-half months of non-compliance, all these three units are full again tonight.”

Her husband added, “I’m profoundly disappointed to hear councillors waffling about how to deal with bylaw infractions.”

A Tuwanek resident also spoke up, telling councillors people in her neighbourhood have complained consistently about problems with short-term rentals in that area.

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