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Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Opinion: Is principal residence rule for short-term rentals helpful?

John Foreman is president of the NOTL Bed & Breakfast Association. Jason Clements operates Niagara Holiday Rentals.


John Foreman and Jason Clements

Special to The Lake Report

The town is proposing changes to the short-term rental bylaw that would require all short-term rental properties to be principal residences.

The intent of the changes to the bylaw is to address some of the problems that have been experienced by NOTL residents who live near short-term rentals.

However, we believe that the principal residence requirement is excessive and would trigger adverse consequences, not just for short-term rental owners, but for the community at large.

We all agree there are problems with NOTL's short-term rental bylaw, but a complete reversal of the current rules, which stipulates that cottage rentals must not be principal residences, would completely disrupt this portion of the tourist accommodation sector in NOTL.

This would have severe financial implications for the owners of about 175 licensed cottage and villa owners. It would also reduce the town’s capacity to accommodate tourists by about 1,000 visitors per night, with negative impacts for the town’s tourism industry overall.

If the proposed principal resident requirement were to move forward, this could be more than 100,000 visitors not being able to stay in NOTL on a yearly basis.

The typical cottage rental visitor stays an average of three to four nights and visits many of the restaurants, the wineries and the shops on Queen Street. They also attend Shaw Festival plays, visit Fort George, the NOTL Museum and support all other local businesses that we, as residents, are also able to benefit from and enjoy.

What do you enjoy about NOTL? What restaurants, wineries, cultural and historical attractions would you miss the most if they were to disappear?

Without the income brought by visitors staying in short-term rentals, a lot of businesses and attractions would simply not be able to continue to operate.

There seems to be a lot of assumptions that a principal residence requirement for short-term rentals could somehow solve all the problems attributed to the industry, such as noise and the alleged “hollowing out’’ of the community.

The majority of short-term rentals do follow the town's bylaw and do not receive frequent noise complaints. Therefore, the majority that are following the rules should not be penalized for the few that are not. Unlicensed short-term rentals need to be fined and forced to license or cease operation, and the noise bylaw needs to be properly enforced.

The Lake Report article, “Bylaw changes to require short-term rentals to be owner occupied by 2024″ provides a perfect example. The featured photo was of a property on the corner of Byron Street in Old Town. This property is a known “party house” and also an unlicensed short-term rental.

The problems caused by this type of unlicensed property needs to be addressed, but currently it appears there is little the town can legally do to stop unlicensed rentals from operating.

The already proposed change to the short-term rental bylaw allowing the town to fine any property for advertising without a licence, as well as properly enforcing the current noise bylaw after hours would be enough to solve the problems caused by ‘’party houses’’ like the one on Byron Street. Noise complaints aren’t exclusive to short-term rentals.

The principal residence requirement for short-term rentals is also meant to solve the “hollowing out” of our neighbourhoods.

Are short-term rentals causing a ‘’hollowing out’’ of NOTL? Looking at some numbers from the 2016 census, NOTL had 7,964 private dwellings. Of that number, 7,089 were permanent or principal residences. So, in 2016, there were 875 properties that were not someone’s principal residence. The most recent public data from the town shows there are 340 licensed short-term rentals in all of NOTL. Of those, 175 are cottages or villas. This amounts to only 2 per cent of all private dwellings operating as licensed, unhosted short-term rentals (cottages or villas).

The remaining 535 secondary residences in town (accounting for 7 per cent of all private dwellings) would be vacation homes, but not used as licensed short-term rentals. How often do all these property owners visit their vacation homes? How often do these homes sit empty? How many are neglected?

Historically, Niagara-on-the-Lake has had many residents who purchased vacation homes in town before moving here permanently. NOTL is indeed a well known retirement community and there are many secondary residences where the owner’s intent is to be able to call NOTL home in the future.

In order to help with the expenses, some have decided to offer their property as a licensed short-term rental while they’re not using it. This helps cover the costs of maintaining the property and ensures that it is not sitting empty for extended periods.

Enforcing a principal residence requirement isn't the solution, it will only cause more problems. The short-term rental industry would like to see this requirement officially removed from the proposed changes.

We would like to sit at the table with the town to discuss what the problems are and what changes can be made to the current short-term rentals bylaw for the benefit of the residents, short-term rental owners and visitors.