Big crowd weighs in on regulating Charlottetown short-term rentals

The City of Charlottetown will have a lot to consider when putting together the new bylaw to regulate short-term rentals.

A packed room spent hours Wednesday night giving feedback to council on what they would like to see happen.

The majority of those favouring regulating the units listed on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO wanted an owner-occupied model. That would mean in order to rent out on one of those sites the unit would also have to be your primary residence. 

"To me it's because Airbnb originally billed itself as a sharing platform, and I personally know low-income homeowners who are able to support themselves by renting out rooms in their house to tourists in the summer. And I think that's really valuable," said Gabrielle Ayles.

"The problem that I see with it is we have people who have taken advantage of the lack of regulatory framework around Airbnbs to operate essentially hotels. It's people who have multiple properties who are taking those properties out of the long-term housing supply."

Enforcement important

Others thought there could be a multi-pronged approach. 

"Perhaps special zoning on short term rentals, increased taxation. Maybe we can link the number of allowable short-term rentals in the city to the amount of housing supply. So we don't have really, really low vacancy," said Ryan Cooke. 

To many others, like Ainsley Kendrick, a member of of the P.E.I. fight for affordable housing group, policing is just as important as regulation.

Natalia Goodwin/CBC

"Whatever it is that you decide, put into your plan how that is going to be enforced and act upon that. Don't slap something on a piece of paper and say 'Oh, we did this great thing,'" she said

Bed and breakfasts not happy

Operators of other types of tourism accommodations also shared their experience on how the recent boom of the rentals has taken a toll on their bottom line and their frustration with the lack of rules for the rentals to follow.

"We're not even getting phone calls ... all of our guests are going elsewhere," said Stacey O'Neill, who owns Dawson House Bed and Breakfast.

"We're doing all the things that we're supposed to do and are happy to do. But then you know, like I say, I'm surrounded by Airbnbs and they don't have any of these things. There's brick buildings, there's no fire escapes, there's nothing,"  

Operators speak out

Several short-term rental operators were at the meeting to speak out in support of the current, largely unregulated, system.

Tian Wigmore and his wife Beth Lassaline live in Ontario but rent out their home on P.E.I. short-term. They said they feel for anyone unable to find housing, but think they have a right to do what they want with their property.  

"We rely on that income stream in order to maintain our house and hopefully move back here as soon as possible," said Wigmore.

"I really feel that the access to affordable housing and Airbnb are two separate issues," Lassaline added.

"Affordable housing is an amazing social issue that as a community we should all rally behind, but I don't think it needs to come at the expense of Airbnb home owners."

Natalia Goodwin/CBC

She said her Charlottetown home is an important investment for her.

"I don't think it's my responsibility to provide that as an affordable home location for people," she said.

Keir Lowther owns four properties in the city that he rents out and argued short-term rentals provide a needed service in the city. 

"It's not the short term, it's the medium term that's such a gap in the market," said Lowther.

"It's people buying houses or building houses, needing accommodations for eight months as they build. We have new immigrants to the community … who've taken our places for the term that they set, not a term that I set as a landlord."

City staff will take the feedback from the meeting and the results of a survey that was done by the city and begin to draft a bylaw. That bylaw will go back to public consultations, and the hope is it will be ready for council to vote on by the fall.

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