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Party over for short-term rentals

The party might soon be over for operators of some short-term rentals in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

After months of complaints from neighbours of Airbnb-style rentals about loud parties, poor behaviour and parking problems, a committee of NOTL council came up with proposals that will mean major revisions to the town’s bylaw governing short-term rentals.

On Monday night Dec. 9, councillors adopted the recommendations produced by the Glendale task force committee, the group given the job of trying to solve the short-term rental problem.

“If we can get proper information out, proper education out to people that are renting, make them understand we’re serious about this kind of bylaw, we’re serious about controlling behaviour, it will resolve itself over time. This bylaw will need to have teeth, for sure,” Coun. Norm Arsenault said at the Glendale task force meeting on Nov. 12.

The proposal would mean a NOTL resident could use their home as a cottage rental if that property is their main residence. Proof of it being the owner’s principal residence would be required before the town would issue a licence.

Homes owned by non-residents would only be allowed to operate as a short-term rental if the property is managed by a rental management company or if the owner lives NOTL and is available 24/7, 365 days a year to address any concerns.

Rental managers and owners will be responsible for addressing any complaints or bylaw infractions.

The committee also recommended restricting cottage rentals to a maximum of three bedrooms, requiring cottages with pools to have a pool inspection, hiking annual fees to cover increased enforcement and requiring cottage rental licences to be renewed yearly.

If owners were to operate without a licence 60 days after the new bylaw comes into effect, they would be charged, see their licence application denied and prohibited from applying for a new short-term rental licence for five years, the task force committee suggested.

There is a long list of issues that prompted the bylaw changes, including noise, overnight street parking, lack of bylaw enforcement on weekdays, evenings and weekends, no limits on the number of guests per unit, an abundance of cottage rentals in residential areas, lack of accountability and good neighbour agreements, and no code of conduct for renters.

The proposed new bylaw includes provisions enacted by two other municipalities that attract a lot of tourists, Kelowna, B.C., and the Town of Georgina, on Lake Simcoe.

The committee report suggests the updated bylaw should ensure that homes are not turned into “party houses,” minimize public safety risks and reduce parking, trash and noise issues, ensure residential neighbourhoods don’t become tourist areas and that regulations of short-term rentals don’t affect property values and property tax revenues.

“Not all rentals are like that, just some of them,” Arsenault told The Lake Report. “They are doing a great job but they need a bit of control and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The proposed changes would not affect any motel, hotel, bed and breakfast establishment, tourist cabin, hospital, commercial resort unit or village commercial resort unit in town, some of which fall under the current bylaw.

Instead, a short-term rental could be a building or any part of a building that rents out space for less than 28 days and is considered commercial or non-residential, the committee said.

Under the existing bylaw, a short-term rental is a building used for “overnight guest lodging” for no more than 28 days and includes bed and breakfast homes, cottage rentals, villas, country inns and vacation apartments.

At the committee of the whole meeting Monday, Dec. 2., Coun. Wendy Cheropita complimented the staff and the committee, saying the document had some “excellent points.”

“I was very impressed with the revisions you were making and the details that you touched on that I think will be very helpful. And I think you’re going to find we’ll have great support from the residents,” she said, also asking to make the language in the document firm and clear.

Town staff is also in the process of reviewing a new long-term rental draft bylaw. The town currently doesn’t have any bylaws related to long-term rentals.

Following council’s approval, the town staff will now circulate the document to all town departments and will bring forward an information report with recommendations on how to move forward.

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