Short-term rental operators in Niagara-on-the-Lake are disappointed with the increased licensing fees and the proposed draft changes to the short-term rental bylaw, a representative from the Niagara-on-the-Lake Bed and Breakfast Association told town councillors Monday night.
Greg Dell spoke on behalf of more than 320 licensed establishments whose operators expressed “dismay and anger” when they found out their licensing fees have been increased without “a dialogue or discussion,” Dell said.
During a special budget meeting in December, the 2020 licensing fees were raised to $325 per room each year from the $115 fee charged in 2019.
The appeal fee, which is paid by the operator if the town refuses or revokes a licence, was also increased slightly, to $263 from $257, while the fee for signs – vacant/no vacancy or a B&B sign – has increased by a dollar to $22 and $32 respectively.
The town says the higher fees are needed to hire more enforcement officers to crack down on illegal short-term rentals.
“Why are you penalizing the legal licensed operators in order to recover and prosecute unlicensed operators?” Dell asked councillors.
The association members, several of whom filled the council’s chambers Monday night, want the town to reduce the per-room fee to $150 annually or that the operators pay $325 for a two-year term instead of one, Dell said.
He added there are currently about 93 establishments operating without a licence, noting the association should have been consulted during a discussion period as association members can help the town identify unlicensed operators.
“We are not part of the problem, but we can and will assist the town and staff with a solution,” Dell said.
“A lot of them are other owners or operators that are subleasing from the owners of the property. So, how do you address that with the penalties of the ownership that’s part of the bylaw?”
He said one of the solutions could be advertising and educating visitors coming into town by making sure they stay in licensed establishments.
Coun. Allan Bisback said there was no malicious intent to take on the B&B association, noting the fee hike could help hire two enforcement officers on contract to enforce the short-term rental bylaw.
“We do need to add two enforcement officers. That’s where the calculations came from,” Bisback said about the licensing fee. “It wasn’t pulled out of the sky. It wasn’t created willy-nilly.”
Coun. Norm Arsenault agreed with Bisback, saying the discussions regarding the changes were during public meetings which were open to anyone to attend. He also stressed the proposed bylaw changes are not set in stone and it is just a list of ideas for town staff to consider.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said the council could review reducing the fee or extending the licence approval in the future but for right now she asked the association to co-operate with the town as it cracks down on illegal short-term rentals.
“Work with us on this for now because we’ve got a major problem. If we don’t deal with those illegals, they will continue to grow exponentially and they will start to take your business away and undercut you,” she said.
“And once we no longer have to provide as much bylaw enforcement on that particular issue, yes, let’s review this every year to ensure that we’re only charging the short-term rentals what it is and what it costs us to actually service them.”
“I’m hopeful they will trust us enough to review this at the end of the season to see if maybe we can go two-year or we can give a reduction next year,” Disero said.
“But right now, if we don’t get a handle on this now, our neighbourhoods will start to break down. And our operators are going to start being undercut.”