Even though the town has shut down short-term rentals due to COVID-19, there are continuing public concerns that some rentals are still operating illegally.
A post on a NOTL-focused Facebook group said a resident in Chautauqua is continuing to see short-term rentals operating.
“What is with all the cottage/air BnBs still booking?! Quite a few new rentals, some have been and gone already! I just don't get it, I want to get away too but clearly now is not the time!” said the post by Stephanie Tribe.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Bed and Breakfast Association president David Levesque said the majority of rental properties still taking bookings must be ones that were operating illegally (without a licence) before the COVID-19 restrictions.
“I know for a fact that all our members are in compliance,” Levesque said. “The few troublemakers seem to be the places that did not get the memos, therefore all the illegals.”
He encourages anyone who witnesses short-term rentals continuing to operate to report it to the town.
“I think the main message is to make people understand that just purely complaining about something is not going to solve the issue. Social media is just not the way to make things happen if you notice something that you consider is not following the emergency rules,” he said.
“Just report it to the town because they are the entity that can do something about it.”
The B&B association sent out letters to all members telling them to comply with the town’s restrictions on rental operations and has modified the association website so nobody can even search for availability until May 13.
“At the moment we’re following the provincial declaration of emergency guidelines in terms of dates,” Levesque said.
“Having availability is not a crime,” he added.
Levesque said he hasn’t received any backlash from members about the emergency rules.
“The vast majority of short-term rentals, especially the licensed ones, are following the rules. That’s the base message. And the rest is what it is. You can’t have 100 per cent control all the time,” he said.
As far as the work to cancel reservations, he said it’s pretty much been automatic.
“Bookings have just cancelled themselves — 99 per cent of them,” he said.
The Town of NOTL wouldn't provide information on how it is enforcing closures and monitoring for illegal operators. The town also refused to provide information on how many fines have been issued to illegal short-term rentals so far.
Levesque said he’s not aware of any rentals that have been fined.
“The enforcement is really a town matter. All I can do is educate,” he said.
Levesque urged all short-term rental operators to adhere to the provincial guidelines.
“Just do the right thing,” he said. “It’s not about money right now. It’s about people’s lives.”