Airbnb welcomes bylaws, though already addressing some concerns

·5 min read

Tourism is a major focus for the municipal councils of Crowsnest Pass and Pincher Creek, as proximity to the mountains enables both communities to offer a host of outdoor recreational activities throughout the year.

With more Albertans holidaying locally, short-term rental properties available through online accommodation platforms like Airbnb have grown in number in both jurisdictions, though the conduct of some visitors has residents calling for firmer regulation.

Pincher Creek is in the very beginning stages of drafting a bylaw, after town council directed administration to begin the process during its May 24 council meeting. The decision was prompted by the Oldman River Regional Services Commission encouraging the making of a bylaw as nothing is currently on the books.

Coun. Sahra Nodge said she would like to see the regulation for temporary tourist rentals follow a discretionary use under the land-use bylaw so community members could have a say in their development and operation.

“This is something that has a degree of impact and influence in the neighbourhoods they operate, similar to home-based businesses,” she said, “and I think we should adopt a process similar for the notification process that happens to facilitate input from the neighbours and having that community-level discussion about these kinds of operations.”

Crowsnest Pass council has been steadily working through the creation of its bylaw, with two public hearings and several discussions between administration and council members occurring during multiple council meetings.

The most recent changes to the draft occurred during council’s June 7 meeting, with council favouring short-term rentals and tourist homes being assigned as discretionary use under the land-use bylaw.

Other changes of note include requiring a 200-metre separation between tourist homes, with current owners with business licences being grandfathered into the separation limit; calculating a tourist home’s business licence fee according to property assessment to accommodate for the owner not paying commercial taxes; and limiting occupancy according to three categories: number of rooms (two guests per room), available parking (four guests per stall), and the maximum occupancy allowed under the property’s land zoning (residential zones allow a max of six occupants).

Occupancy limits would only apply to guests over the age of two.

Much of council’s discussion has centred on how the bylaw could best protect residents living in Crowsnest Pass. One part missing so far, however, is what companies like Airbnb are doing to prevent these problems.

“We have community standards, and we tell our hosts that they need to adhere to those community standards and their guests need to adhere to those community standards,” says Nathan Rotman, regional lead for Airbnb in Canada and the U.S northeast.

Part of those community standards, he continues, is an outright ban on parties and disruptive behaviour.

“We’ve had a party ban in effect for 2½ years, since before the pandemic, and that continues indefinitely,” he says.

“In the event that they happen, we actually have a 24-7 phone line in Canada and the U.S. where anyone can let us know ‘Hey, I think there’s an Airbnb next door, there's a party happening right now.’

“We’ll get in touch with that guest and that host, and in some cases we’ll either remove them from the platform or, in some more egregious circumstances, even engage in litigation.”

Airbnb’s 24-7 phone line is 1-855-635-7754. Neighbourhood concerns can also be reported online at airbnb.ca/neighbors. Vrbo, another popular online tourist rental company, also offers an online service for reporting concerns at bit.ly/Vrbo_neighbour-form.

Though such measures can help address neighbourhood concerns like noise, parking and litter, issues about business licensing, taxation and long-term rent availability remain. Since Airbnb operates in over 220 countries, creating a good relationship with local authorities and following local laws is in the company’s best interest, Rotman says.

“In many cases we will work with the local Airbnb host community so that they understand their local obligations with regard to listing their home,” Rotman adds. “We also have data we’re happy to share with municipalities with regard to the local impact and the local tourism industry, like where guests are coming from and how long they stay.”

Although supportive of added legislation, Rotman says striking a balance between maintaining neighbourhood standards and supporting short-term tourist rentals is important for local economies.

“We don’t oppose regulation, but home sharing is good for these communities, especially in smaller communities where there aren’t necessarily traditional accommodations,” he says.

“There’s all kinds of interesting shifts happening in the industry — we’re actually finding that a lot of people are really looking to travel beyond the traditional big centres. There’s a lot of value in people exploring parts of the province like Crowsnest Pass or Pincher Creek, with the opportunity to support the local economy and to support the local host by bringing more visitors into the local community.”

A draft bylaw for short-term tourist rentals in Pincher Creek is currently being worked on. The latest proposed rules for the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass can be found online at bit.ly/CNP_June7 on pages 70 to 86; the actual bylaw draft is on pages 87 to 155.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze

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