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Sunday, December 4, 2022
Letter: Agree that illegal short-term rentals are a problem, but disagree that legal ones are hollowing out NOTL

Dear editor:

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with editor Richard Harley his solutions to the supposed short-term rental problem in Niagara-on-the-Lake, (editorial, Feb. 20, “Solution needed for short-term rentals”).

My wife and I are the owners of Niagara Holiday Rentals and manage 25 vacation homes in Old Town. We are also the owners of a B&B in Old Town. In addition to my experience managing both owner-occupied short-term rentals and whole-home rentals, I have also managed long-term rentals for nearly 10 years.

Unfortunately, short-term rentals have a bad reputation, however, it is just a few bad houses that are causing this misperception. And repeating the complaints of Toronto that short-term rentals are taking away affordable housing is misinformed.

Yes, NOTL is expensive, as is Toronto, but the lack of affordable housing is not the result of short-term rentals, not in Toronto, nor in NOTL. Short-term rentals are a very small factor in influencing affordable housing.

The current mortgage rules in Canada are affecting the lack of affordable housing. The current flawed landlord tenant laws in Ontario are a huge reason for the lack of affordable housing and have directly resulted in many investment properties converting from long-term rentals to short-term rentals.

I’ve experienced this first-hand with investment properties I owned in London, Ont., and know of many investors who have converted their properties from long-term to short-term rentals due to the problems experienced with long-term rentals.

Regarding the solutions outlined in your editorial:

1. Why must short-term rental operators pay a higher rate than live-in B&B operators? Some vacation rentals are vacation homes for the homeowners. Allowing guests while the home is not used by the owners avoids empty houses and empty streets. According to the town staff and councillors, only a small amount of collected taxes goes to the municipality. Requiring short-term rental properties to pay higher taxes is unfair by any measure.

2. Why must the owner live in the house year-round for a licence to be granted? Many vacation rentals are owned by residents, or have a competent, local property manager looking after the rental. Very few, if any, B&Bs allow young children or pets. Families with children can visit the town and stay at a vacation rental, and there are some that allow a small dog. A family with kids can’t affordably stay in a hotel, and likely couldn’t bring their family pet. A licensed vacation home allows more families and small groups to affordably stay and experience Niagara-on-the-Lake.

3. There are second homes that aren’t used as short-term rentals that the owners only visit on an infrequent basis. Those are empty homes hollowing out the neighbourhood. A vacation rental home is accommodating guests, it’s not hollowing the neighbourhood, but allowing families and friends to get together and experience the town at an affordable rate.

4. The increase in licence fees is a user fee. If you exempt one user over another that sounds very biased. Owning a B&B is not a hobby business. A hobby business is not meant to make money. Many owners of a B&B could not afford the home if it did not make any money. A number of short-term rental home owners do live in Niagara-on-the-lake, are voting residents, and share a second home with visitors to the town. By also living in town it provides a local host to keep an eye on the property and not have a unwatched “party house” (which seems to be the misconception that all short-term rentals are party houses).

5. I agree with the point that the short-term rental bylaws need to have some bite. It’s not fair for those operating a legal short-term rental and paying the licence fees to be competing against those who aren’t following the current safety laws and not paying the licensing fees. The short-term rental bylaw needs to be enforceable and ensure that all properties are licensed and pay their share.

The municipal accommodation tax is not the best solution for Niagara-on-the-Lake. Town council decided to defer it until more questions can be answered.

There are many unanswered questions about the municipal accommodation tax and it’s unclear whether it will be the cash machine that it has been portrayed as.

The editorial by Mr. Harley perpetuates another misconception. Not all short-term rentals are “owner absent” and not all short-term rentals are “party houses.” Many owners live in town and keep a close eye on their property and their guests. And many other homes employ a local property manager to maintain the house and also ensure guests are respectful to the home and also to neighbours.

Comparing Niagara-on-the-Lake to Vancouver, or to Toronto, is not a good comparison. Niagara-on-the-Lake is predominantly supported by tourism and by agriculture. Toronto and Vancouver have a lot more than tourism. We could allow highrise apartments, condos and hotels in Old Town if you want to be like Toronto or Vancouver.

If only principal residences were allowed as short-term rentals, then if the owner leaves town while guests are staying at the house then the home is not being watched while the guests are staying there. A second home where the owner lives in town, or that is managed by a local property manager, ensures that the home is watched while the guests are there.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake residents looking to stay and make a living in their hometown are more than likely involved in some way in tourism, which is supported by short-term rentals. So, being too restrictive could very well negatively affect the town. It might make homes more affordable through reduced housing prices, but as a result reduce the jobs and income of those people making a living in the town.

Without tourism would the Shaw Festival still be here? Would Fort George? Would all the great restaurants and wineries survive? Probably not.

Whatever is done to protect our town, it should not be at the expense of businesses that are supporting tourism and encouraging guests to stay in town for more than a few hours.

Jason Clements

Niagara Holiday Rentals