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Apr. 16, 2021 | Friday
Local News
Council rejects licence decrease for short-term rentals
Councillors choose suspending licences over reducing fees for ailing short-term rental businesses. (Sourced)

Evan Saunders
Special to Niagara Now/The Lake Report

In an ongoing struggle to balance the town budget with the needs of local businesses, councillors Monday night near-unanimously rejected a request by short-term rental owners to cut their $175 per room annual licence fees in half.

But council approved a request that short-term rental operators be able to suspend their licence for the year due to COVID.  

Staring down the barrel of a potential shortfall of $170,000 in the 2021 budget, councillors tried to find a way to aid short-term rental owners without extensively interfering with the already-strained budget.  

Council struggled with approving all of the requests made by short-term rental owners searching for help in the face of reduced business and capacity amid COVID, but nearly all councillors felt that some form of aid should be given to struggling operators.   

“We have to make adjustments (for businesses) when it comes to COVID. I wasn’t a big fan of (the motion), but I understand the logic,” Coun. Norm Arsenault, who voted against requests, told The Lake Report in an interview Tuesday.  

Short-term rental owners have been granted until June 30 to decide whether they will operate for the remainder of the year due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.    

If they choose not to, they can suspend their licence and avoid paying the yearly fee, then reopen in 2022 without having to apply for a new business licence, unless their licence is set to expire during the time they will have furloughed their business.     

Councillors also made it clear that this would not increase the bylaw-mandated licence renewal and inspection required every four years of operation. As well, any short-term rental owner whose licence expires in the next year will still have to go through the standard procedure, or else they would have to apply again as a new business.   

It is a matter of safety, town clerk Peter Todd told councillors.

“We should be continuing to inspect these properties every four years,” he said.

Town treasurer Kyle Freeborn briefed councillors last week on the potential budget shortfall if all short-term rental owners choose not to operate this year, noting it could total over $110,000. There is no way to gauge how many will choose to operate until the June deadline has come and gone.   

Freeborn informed council that the requested fee reduction could lead to a further loss of $50,000 to $60,000 for the town. That figure became untenable when taken with the potential $110,000 loss from closed short-term rentals, as the money earned from the licensing fees has already been incorporated into the 2021 budget.    

“I don’t think the fee is going to make or break any short-term rental. We’re talking $175 a room. I don’t think it’s going to break the bank for anybody,” Arsenault said Tuesday.  

“We have a budget in place. The budget relied on, very much on, the fees that are coming in.”  

Freeborn noted that $46,000 is being used to pay for contractors hired by the town to monitor complaints about rentals and ensure none violate any municipal regulations. The money to pay the contractors is coming directly from the 2021 short-term rental licensing fees, he said. 

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