The Chautauqua Residents Association’s new president Brian Crow is forward thinking and sees the problems short-term rentals can cause.
He’s seen first-hand how short-term rentals have begun to hollow out his tight-knit neighbourhood, how those mini-hotels are unfairly competing with legitimate hotels and accommodation businesses.
This week he gave a heartfelt presentation to town councillors, asking them to work with the association on potential solutions to prevent the further proliferation of short-term rentals and the plethora of problems that come with them.
Among the suggestions was to charge commercial taxes to homes that serve to operate solely as a commercial business and which don’t provide a permanent residence to anyone.
A logical, brilliant thought. Something The Lake Report has also advocated for, since these homes are no longer serving a residential function and are unquestionably commercial businesses.
On that issue, Coun. Norm Arsenault asked how a short-term rental with no one living in it differs from a home where someone is operating a haircutting business on the side.
The answer, as Crow noted, is built in to the question: The primary function of one house is to serve as a residence. The other does not. Simple.
We commend Crow for taking what is sure to be a stance that will surely spark opposition from many short-term rental owners, managers and others who stand to potentially lose money.
But Crow understands that the small minority of rental owners isn’t who the town’s politicians were elected to protect.
In a town of 18,000 plus people, only about 290 people operate short-term rentals.
This is why council was entirely wrong to evenly stack its short-term rental committee with half industry stakeholders.
We need proportional representation in this case — not 290 people with a clear conflict of interest holding power over thousands of other residents.
Another issue raised was the municipal accommodation tax, which is largely expected even by industry members to be applied to short-term rentals eventually.
While we agree with Crow’s position that full-time, hosted bed and breakfasts shouldn’t be subject to the same commercial property taxes, they certainly should be made to charge the accommodation tax.
Any and all accommodation businesses should be obligated to charge it, if the tax is to be fair.
Unlike our town council, which has allowed town staff to take a year to bring forward recommendations to tackle and which generally seems to give the industry stakeholders the moon and sky (by lowering fees, stacking committees, etc.), Crow has moved swiftly to offer solutions to the problem, despite having been in his position for just a few months.
Keep it up. With luck, our town might start to wake up before we drive off the bridge.
Council agreed to send Crow’s recommendations to staff. Now let’s make sure those recommendations are taken seriously.
Staff weren’t elected to fight for us, our councillors were.