Halifax has approved regulations for short-term rentals like Airbnbs, but are giving residents until Sept. 1 to adjust.
Dozens of people spoke on the proposed changes to rules around short-term rentals of 28 days or less at a crowded public hearing before Halifax regional council Tuesday night.
Owners will be required to live in their rental property if they are in a residential zone, a staff report said. Those in mixed use or commercial zones anywhere in Halifax don't carry that requirement, but all will have to register with the municipality.
"There will be winners and there will be losers," said Coun. Shawn Cleary.
Although council voted in December to delay any decision to April, they later revoked that direction and agreed to move ahead with a public hearing and a vote on the changes.
Those in favour of regulation said they wanted to know who to go to with noise and garbage complaints, and that a revolving door of visitors has eroded community feeling.
Brendan Smith of Dartmouth said he's the only long-term renter left in his three-unit building, with the others converted to short-term listings.
"These issues affect my neighbours as well, as our area has started to feel less like a community, and more like a hotel development," Smith said.
Smith said he feels his housing situation is "precarious" as he's worried his landlord could find a reason to turn his unit into an Airbnb as well.
Many, like Smith, said they hope homes can revert to long-term rentals given the province's housing crisis.
Councillors have said they hope the changes cut down on so-called ghost hotels in residential areas where property owners who live elsewhere buy up apartments, evict tenants and turn the building into only short-term rentals.
Staff said Tuesday that the vast majority of the Halifax region's roughly 2,000 listings — about 1,350 — are located in residential zones and will have to follow the new owner-occupied rule.
But staff said they don't know how many would turn into long-term rentals or be sold. Halifax's new regulations are more permissive than other cities in Canada, since they're not limiting the number of nights or bedrooms that can be rented.
Michael Kabalen, executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, said the impact of the rules will be a "mixed bag."
While he said there may be more housing made available by the changes, it won't help people with lower incomes.
"The real solutions need to be purpose-built affordable housing either by government or by agencies like ours." Kabalen said.
Joline Dorey of Dartmouth was one of many owners who told council they would not be converting their spaces into long-term rentals and felt like the regulations will be "drastically impacting my family, for the benefit of no one."
Dorey, a single mom of two, said the new rules would likely mean she would sell her rental cottage to help make ends meet on their home where she also has a rental suite.
"[Short-term rental] owners are not big corporations. We are Nova Scotians who are hard working and using our assets to supplement our income to survive these difficult times," Dorey said.
Property managers like Tiffany Westwood talked about how the new rules would lead to only wealthy people running short-term listings. Westwood said she runs her own small management company handling 11 units, and the new rules would likely shut down nine.
"Completely destroying my business and ruining my livability," she said.
Avery Birch of the 365 Experience rental company said they have about 100 rentals in Halifax and rural areas like Lunenburg, and employ about 50 people.
He suggested the city add a new tax levy that would see all the funds go to building affordable housing.
"Maybe we can be part of the solution so it becomes an ecosystem in which we're feeding the solution we are looking for," Birch said.
Marketing levy only for tourism
Although recent provincial changes to Halifax Regional Municipality's charter allows it to raise the two per cent marketing levy on tourist accommodations to three per cent, and include short-term rentals, staff said that money can only be used for tourism. Currently 60 per cent of those funds go to Discover Halifax and the remaining goes to the city's special events reserve.
Other Airbnb owners and property managers talked about how they provide a key service as transitional homes for people moving to Nova Scotia from other provinces, Ukrainian refugees, or tradespeople and paramedics in town for short visits.
"A lot of reports we have been getting from neighbours who feel unsafe with strangers in their community are often people who do not look like them," said Sid Kosatsky of the property management company Host Often.
A Discover Halifax study presented to council Tuesday estimated that the changes could cut the inventory of short-term rentals in half, with 75,000 fewer rooms available annually. The most likely scenario estimated $49 million in lost economic activity.
Coun. Waye Mason of Halifax South Downtown said while he can empathise with people faced with losing their livelihoods, the changes have been in the works for years. Council directed staff in September 2020 to look into making specific bylaw changes.
"This should not be news to anyone," Mason said.
Mason also said with a 0.7 vacancy rate in his district, if the changes released even 100 or 200 units "that would be a huge deal for my residents and the pressure they're facing."
Council eventually passed the regulations, with councillors Becky Kent, Trish Purdy and Shawn Cleary voting no.
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