Sidney will not significantly step up enforcement of the bylaw regulating short-term rentals, but that did not stop members of council from suggesting that tougher measures loom on the horizon against the backdrop of concerns from local hoteliers and a recent court ruling favouring tougher enforcement measures.
Councillors unanimously approved a motion that staff continue to enforce short-term rentals with a proactive approach for the next 12 months and then re-evaluate.
Coun. Chard Rintoul, who tabled the revised motion, said the municipality’s current approach is heading in the right direction.
Overall, staff identified 100 short-term rentals with 36 of them exempt from the bylaw because they are currently zoned to allow hotel use or are actively working with staff to become a hotel, leaving 64 short-term rentals for review and possible enforcement.
“If you don’t account for the secondary suites, which could be legalized if they were brought up to building code standards, there are only 17,” said Jenn Clary, Sidney’s director of engineering during the Dec. 20 council meeting. “They have no way of becoming legal under the current zoning bylaw. Staff are actively sending letters to these (units).”
Coun. Terri O’Keeffe acknowledged the number, but wondered whether they are low because of enforcement or because the COVID-pandemic had diminished demand from tourists. Once tourists return, short-term rentals will likely flourish again, thereby putting additional pressure on the local housing supply, she predicted.
Housing advocates have long accused short-term rental platforms of compounding affordable housing shortages by taking them out of the rental supply. They also found allies among hotel operators, who see short-term rentals as a threat to workforce housing, and as competitors, since they generally charge lower rates and operate out of private homes taxed at lower residential rates.
These respective concerns have come to the forefront in recent weeks as evident by letters from the Sidney Hotel Group. “I’m sure council is acutely aware of the critical shortage of affordable long-term housing in Sidney, which in turn contributes to the business community’s inability to hire enough staff,” read a letter dated Dec. 6 signed by Nick Coates of the Victoria Airport Travelodge on behalf of the Sidney Hotel Group.
“Not to mention, (short-term rentals) don’t contribute to the tax base nor provide employment in the community. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that (short-term rentals) are counterproductive to what our shared goals as a community should be.”
Sidney Hotel Group also submitted a letter to the Dec. 20 meeting in which it highlighted a recent court victory by the City of Victoria against illegal short-term rentals. The group called on Sidney to licence short-term rentals.
Coun. Scott Garnett said he is not surprised that hoteliers are concerned given their significantly higher tax rates, and O’Keeffe was in favour of requiring business licences for short-term rentals.
She also pushed for the enforcement of existing rules, saying that enforcement serves a purpose, namely protecting the housing stock.
The public had heard earlier that Sidney has yet to issue a single fine of $650 (or $500 if paid within 30 days) against the operator of an illegal short-term rental. According to staff, enforcement is challenging because the municipality does not receive many complaints. COVID-19 has also delayed enforcement.
Staff said the municipality’s approach focused on education is working and that stepped up, proactive fining would set a dangerous precedent with chief administrative officer Randy Humble calling it a sledge hammer.
He said it is easy to issue tickets, but far more difficult to collect them, ultimately requiring a larger legal budget.
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