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Friday, December 9, 2022
Opinion: B&B president’s perspective on NOTL short-term rentals

John Foreman

Special to The Lake Report

Over the last few weeks, The Lake Report has published a number of articles and editorials that present a very negative view of short-term rentals, including calling them a “blight on our town.” 

As president of the Niagara on the Lake Bed & Breakfast Association I would like to dispel some of the misinformation and provide a more objective view on  short-term rentals and their place in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

In this piece, the first of three installments, I would like to provide some background information. NOTL’s bylaw defines short-term rentals as including B&Bs, cottage rentals, villas and country inns. Under the bylaw, B&Bs and cottages have three bedrooms or fewer, villas and country inns have four bedrooms or more.

Short-term rentals have been in Niagara for many decades. I am told that not too many years ago, NOTL was considered the B&B capital of North America, with over 300 B&Bs. Now it is estimated that there are perhaps 150.

As B&B numbers have fallen, cottage rentals have risen (especially as the popularity of Airbnb has grown), but cottage rentals have been part of NOTL for over a century. Whereas most B&Bs are licensed by the town, the percentage of cottage rentals that are licensed is lower, making this segment more vulnerable to being a source of problems.

B&B owners are often people like myself, who have purchased theirs as a semi-retirement activity, with the intent to retire in NOTL. Most cottage rentals are owned by individuals who want to vacation here for part of the year and rent their property out at other times to help defray the cost of owning the property.

Most of these folks plan to retire to NOTL in time. I have combed through the town’s list of licensed short-term rental properties and there are very few cases where properties are owned by a company and only a handful where an individual or company owns more than one property.

My conclusion is the perception that cottage rentals are dominated by faceless, corporate investors is inaccurate. For the most part, cottage rental owners are people who love NOTL and want to be part of it, just like you and I.

The people who stay at short-term rentals, whether B&Bs or cottages, are not necessarily the same people who stay at hotels. On average, a stay at a hotel involves a higher cost per person per day than rentals, largely because of the need to eat out for every meal.

In addition to cost, B&Bs are popular with people who like the quaint, small-scale setting and personalized service. Cottage rentals are popular with families or groups of friends travelling together for whom hotels would be too expensive or not suitable.

In either case, a stay at a short-term rental leaves visitors with more money to spend on other parts of their visit. Lower accommodation costs allow visitors to stay in NOTL longer and patronize more area businesses, often visiting places that short-stay visitors don’t.

I believe that in the absence of short-term rentals, most of these visitors would not stay at hotels, or at least not for as long, and NOTL would lose a valuable segment of the tourist market.

My wife and I had stayed at B&Bs in NOTL many times before finally making the leap to move here. For us, the presence of short-term rentals, both B&Bs and cottages, is part of the charm and character of the town and a main contributor to why we moved here. I suspect a great many other visitors and residents agree.

However, I am not denying that there are concerns associated with short-term rentals. In my time as president of the B&B Association, I have become familiar with issues I never dreamed existed a few years ago.

However, there has been a lot of misinformation floating around about rentals.

Next: I will explore the most common issues with short-term rentals and look at remedies that would serve the interests of all stakeholders.

John Foreman is president of the NOTL B&B Association.