Special to The Lake Report
One concern people have about short-term rentals is that they can be bad neighbours. We have all heard of party houses and cases of excessive noise, too many cars and poorly maintained properties.
To determine the size of the problem, the town's short-term rental (comprised of councillors, citizens and tourism industry representatives) looked at the town’s records for noise complaints going back several years.
The data showed noise complaints were relatively rare and generally focused on a few specific repeat offenders. I am not downplaying the seriousness of this situation for those who live near a party house, but I am suggesting that we are best to deal with the few bad apples rather than punishing all short-term rentals.
Historically, the town has not been able to deal with these situations effectively, as bylaw officers generally were not on duty when the parties were taking place and police responded to only the most extreme cases. Using the services of Granicus Host Compliance, along with updates to the short-term rental bylaw, have provided a new tool for dealing with these situations.
The bylaw requires that a local contact be available to respond to property issues, regardless of the time of day. Failure results in a fine. Thus, when there is a noise complaint on a Saturday night, it can be dealt with.
The town has also introduced a Renter’s Code of Conduct, which property owners are required to provide to renters, educating them on the terms of rental and the consequences of bad behaviour. I believe that these steps go a long way toward reducing the rare incidents of short-term rentals being bad neighbours.
These remedies, however, only work for licensed properties. For unlicensed properties there is no one to call. I suspect that the majority of complaints concern unlicensed cottage rentals, since most licensed properties are owned and managed by responsible citizens who care about our town.
The number of unlicensed cottage rentals in NOTL is not known precisely but is estimated to be comparable to the number of licensed cottage rentals. Fortunately, the town is now cracking down on unlicensed properties, with the result that they either become licensed or cease operation. I believe that last month 12 properties were fined for operating without a licence. The end results remain to be seen, but I am optimistic.
Another concern that is raised re: short-term rentals is that they hollow out neighbourhoods and cause overall property prices to climb beyond the reach of ordinary families. I think such statements reflect a few very specific situations rather than the broader state of affairs.
According to the 2016 census, there were 7,964 private dwellings in NOTL (and likely more now). Currently, there are 255 licensed short-term rentals in NOTL.
About 150 of these are (owner-occupied) B&Bs and 105 are cottages and vacation rentals. Thus, licensed unhosted short-term rentals account for just over one per cent of the private residences in NOTL. By comparison, the 2016 census also indicated 875 homes (over 10 per cent of the total) were not principal residences (i.e., primarily vacation homes). I believe that, in most cases, empty vacation homes contribute more to hollowing out than rentals do.
I am not downplaying the situation of those who live on a street with an over-abundance of cottage rentals. I am just suggesting that this does not seem like a NOTL-wide problem and that focused solutions should be sought, rather than the elimination of all short-term rentals, as some have called for.
Similarly, I am not convinced short-term rentals are the main factor driving NOTL’s high real estate prices. If unhosted short-term rentals account for just over one per cent of properties, they assumably account for a similar percentage of real estate transactions each year. It would seem unlikely that this small percentage drives the price of the market overall.
NOTL is a popular place to live (and rightfully so), with a limited number of houses, especially in the Old Town. There will always be strong demand (from more than just prospective short-term rental owners) and prices will always be higher than the surrounding area. It is unlikely that eliminating short-term rentals would produce more than a temporary blip in NOTL’s ever-rising house prices.
Some citizens have legitimate concerns about short-term rentals in their neighbourhood. Some concerns, such as noise complaints, are being addressed more effectively now than ever before. Other concerns, such as the number of rentals in a neighbourhood, are not NOTL-wide issues and should be dealt with by more focused solutions.
Short-term rentals have a long history in NOTL and play an important role in the tourism ecosystem. It is no coincidence that so many representatives of the tourism industry have spoken out in support of rentals. Calls for the elimination of short-term rentals are excessive and unnecessary.
With the exception of a few bad apples, rental owners are overwhelmingly good citizens with the best interests of the community at heart.
Further, rental owners have shown they are committed to working with the town to address concerns. Progress has already been made, with more to come.
John Foreman is president of the NOTL B&B Association.