Council OKs short-term rental rules, but caps group size

·2 min read
Anyone wanting to list their primary residence on a short-term rental site will now have to register with the City of Ottawa and pay a fee.  (Daniel Krason/Shutterstock - image credit)
Anyone wanting to list their primary residence on a short-term rental site will now have to register with the City of Ottawa and pay a fee. (Daniel Krason/Shutterstock - image credit)

Ottawa city council has approved a new permit system that will allow some short-term vacation rentals to operate legally, but tweaked the bylaw to prevent large groups such as sports teams from piling into one residence.

Under the new rules, hosts are allowed to list only their principal residence or rural cottage on such platforms as Airbnb and VRBO, and must first obtain a permit from the city.

Coun. Diane Deans has expressed concern that the original staff proposal would allow up to 16 adults or 32 kids to stay at one address. She said residents in her ward have had to put up with busloads of visiting sports and dance teams descending on their residential neighbourhoods.

"I could show you photos of backpacks all the way down the driveway. That's what we're trying to prevent," Deans told council. "In my mind, hotels are for that. You want to bring a sports team, go to a hotel."

Deans proposed overnight groups be capped at eight people.

'It discriminates against large families. It's hard enough booking hotels nowadays with five kids. - Coun. Scott Moffatt.

City staff explained that in crafting the bylaw, which is a three-year pilot that can be amended, they wanted to allow large families to gather for reunions and weddings.

Coun. Scott Moffatt, a father of five, voted against a lower cap.

"It discriminates against large families," Moffatt argued. "It's hard enough booking hotels nowadays with five kids. It's almost impossible. I can't book one room, I have to sneak them in."

After much debate, council settled on limiting overnight groups to 10.

Regulations a long time coming

Ottawa becomes the latest municipality to regulate short-term rentals, which despite their popularity have been operating outside local zoning rules.

"Airbnb has been a clear market disrupter. It created something that fell into a regulatory grey area," noted Coun. Jeff Leiper on Wednesday.

Leiper and other council members said the new bylaw finally addresses two ongoing problems: the noise and occasional violence seen at "ghost hotels" in residential areas, and the erosion of available rental housing in the city.

Mayor Jim Watson said he felt the city had landed on a fair compromise that will allow homeowners to continue listing their primary properties, but won't subject their neighbours to a "turnstile" of strangers next door.

City staff will now launch a public awareness campaign about the new permit system and start taking applications from hosts. Council also approved six additional bylaw officers to enforce the new rules.