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May. 27, 2022 | Friday
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Editorial: Town must tax all short-term rentals: Part 1

Asked about the plethora of problems associated with the short-term rental industry (take note of that word, industry), Lord Mayor Betty Disero said that if there’s one problem council needs to tackle, it is short-term rentals.

Yet, despite excellent ideas like limiting rentals to primary residences only, council has been beaten back by industry stakeholders of these profitable, but destructive businesses.

It’s been tough to watch the cowardice of our councillors in fighting a systemic expansion of these operations filling up our town.

These homes artificially inflate housing market prices, making it harder for NOTL-born children to afford to live in town.

They destroy communities, by filling residentially zoned neighbourhoods with commercial businesses (essentially a small hotel), while simultaneously evading commercial taxes.

The homes taken away ensure no residents will live in them, which proliferates into larger issues, like lack of children to keep a high school running and, ultimately, real, community-based businesses being driven out of town.

All of this in the name of greedy short-term rental owners, real estate agents who sell homes as turn-key rental operations (in other words, a commercial business, which should be illegal) and others like property managers, etc., who suckle off the teat of short-term rentals.

And yet again, council has been entirely, unapologetically, asleep at the wheel regarding yet another tax evasion by short-term rental owners.

The Town of NOTL has voted to only apply the newly approved municipal accommodation tax to short-term rentals with five or more rooms — despite the fact these are accommodation businesses and that hotels (which DO pay commercial taxes) will be collecting the tax from each visitor.

We have serious concerns about whose interests our councillors are really supporting.In this outrageous circumstance, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the resident taxpayers.

For some context, as reported this week in The Lake Report, only 12 of 255 registered short-term rentals (and don’t forget, the slew of unregistered ones) will be subject to the accommodation tax — despite, by definition, offering accommodation.

It’s an insult to every taxpayer in Niagara-on-the-Lake, an insult to our hotels and an insult to basic fairness.

These rental businesses charge anywhere from $400 to well over $1,000 a night (most only accept two-night bookings) and they’re filled up weeks in advance.

It’s a cash cow and yet these businesses only pay a nominal licence fee of $117.25 per room per year (which council actually lowered this year due to COVID).

We are not picking on short-term rentals. We understand their business model and that COVID has been tough. But the people and companies that operate these rentals need to be included in the municipal accommodation tax program. That's only fair and their customers need to remit their fair share to the town. Period.

So far, council’s actions are simply not good enough.

Next: Too much influence and damaging neighbourhoods.