Councillors have overruled a decision by the town's licensing committee and imposed a year-long ban on three short-term rentals that were operating illegally.
“People (need to) understand that if they break the law, there’s a cost to that,” Coun. Norm Arsenault said in an interview Monday.
Arsenault spearheaded the harsher penalties on the illegal rentals after the licensing committee allowed two of the rentals to reapply for a denied licence on Nov. 1, 2021, and let the other one reapply in January 2022.
A staff report recommended that the applications be denied for a year and councillors agreed during a committee of the whole meeting last week.
The penalties were formally ratified by council on Monday night, despite a plea from one of the property owners asking for her licence to be permitted. Coun. Gary Burroughs was the only one to vote against the plan at the council and committee meetings.
The three properties in question were Brian Kerr's rental on Princess Street in Queenston, Jennifer Tilley's property on Davy Street in Old Town, and Cindy Wang and David Yao's rental on the Promenade also in Old Town.
Wang and Yao's property was brought to the attention of the town by a complaint registered through Granicus Host Compliance in July. The other two rentals failed their safety inspections.
All three operators admitted to having run their short-term rental without a licence during a licensing committee meeting on Oct. 7. After that was discovered the town opted to deny their applications.
“All three of them, when they made their application, signed a document that specifically says they will not advertise or rent before they get a licence,” Arsenault said in an interview.
Coun. John Wiens said the town needs to ensure its bylaws are taken seriously.
“I believe that this is really important as well, that we stand up for what we’ve been working on,” Wiens told committee of the whole last week.
“I think it’s important that we support the bylaw officer and go with the year suspension.”
During a licensing committee meeting in October, Tilley said she was not receiving responses from the town about her rental. Katie Aeby of Sotheby's Real Estate represented Tilley during Monday's council meeting and said Tilley assumed the application was going to be imminently approved and so began renting.
Wang also claimed she was confused about the application since it had been granted to the previous owners and assumed the rental could be operated.
The third operator, Kerr, who has been hosting people at his home in Queenston since 2019, said COVID-19 left him no other choice.
Kerr said he bought the house in 2018 with the intention of using it as a short-term rental. In 2020, he lost his job due to COVID-19.
“It’s just been really hard,” the single father of two young boys tearfully told the licensing committee.
“The only way we have been able to survive is with this short-term rental income. My employment insurance ran out last week and I’ve gone ahead and cancelled all future bookings, which is a loss of about $15,000.”
Kerr admitted he was aware he was illegally operating his rental but said it was a necessity for him and his children. He said he worked 25 years in the hospitality industry and hasn’t been able to find a job due to the pandemic.
Arsenault pointed out that, back in March of this year, Kerr applied for an expensive zoning change on his property. The process of hiring a consultant and applying for the zoning change can cost in the range of $20,000 to $30,000, Arsenault said in an interview.
That application involves having the property split in two and is still being reviewed by town staff, he said.
Arsenault presented a motion to make two of the rentals unable to reapply for a short-term rental licence until Oct. 7, 2022. He suggested a permanent ban on Kerr’s application.
He also wanted the motion to include a stipulation that if any of the properties violated the short-term rental bylaw during their one-year ban then their licence would be permanently revoked.
Director of operations Craig Lamour suggested a permanent ban would be difficult to implement, causing Arsenault to remove the stipulation and make it so Kerr couldn’t reapply until Oct. 7, 2022, as well.
After Arsenault suggested these measures, Burroughs said, “Maybe we should shoot them as well.”
The comment prompted some uncomfortable laughs from councillors. Coun. Allan Bisback shook his head and Lord Mayor Betty Disero requested that Burroughs keep his microphone muted unless he had the floor.
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report