Legal opinion sought on short-term rental bylaws

Regulating short-term rentals in Haliburton County will be a two-stage process.

County council evaluated the nuts and bolts of a system to register, license, and enforce short-term rental businesses during a special meeting on the topic Feb. 27. Council will return to the issue after they get a legal opinion on some bylaw questions.

The need to regulate such businesses has been an issue in the lower tier municipalities for some time. The previous county council hired a consultant, J.L.Richards out of North Bay, to explore the county’s options.

Scott Ovell, director of economic development and tourism, said regulating short-term rentals should be viewed as an “evolutionary” process.

“It’s probably not going to be perfect when we start it,” Ovell said. “Staff just have to be continually evaluating what’s working, what’s not working, and come back to council with recommended changes.”

Stephen Stone, the county’s director of planning, said much of the consultant’s focus was directed by the previous county council. It was to consider how the Lake of Bays handle the short-term rental issue.

The structure that’s being recommended consists of two bylaws: A registration bylaw and a licensing bylaw.

The registration bylaw will give the county a sense of how many such businesses are operating. The licensing requirement will serve to replace the registration bylaw.

“The two are somewhat similar sort of at the start,” Stone said. “The registration bylaw is very similar definitions that’re carried over to the licensing. But the licensing bylaw really is, shall we say, the foundation for the regulation of short-term rentals in the county.”

It sets a fee structure and the requirements for being a business operator. It establishes performance standards, he said. There’ll be a demerit points system to discourage nuisance behaviour by renters.

“If you have ongoing nuisances with noise or other disturbances related to your short-term rental business, you could lose demerit points,” Stone said. “Repeat offenders actually can go so far as to lose their ability to operate through the licensing system.”

Warden Liz Danielsen, who is also mayor of Algonquin Highlands, said the county needs to have a hand in short-term rentals. And that’s apparent by the concerns expressed by the public, she said.

Councillor Bob Carter, mayor of Minden Hills, said 90 days should be sufficient for short-term rental operators to register their operation with the county.

“We have no idea if there are 500 (or) 1,000 or 2,000 of these out there,” Carter said. “The only way we’re going to be able to do it is to set a hard deadline.

“It’s not like anybody who out there is going to find this a surprise that we’re doing it.”

Coun. Murray Fearrey, mayor of Dysart et al, said allowing longer than 90 days wouldn’t give enough time to get the plan off the ground this year.

“And I think people are expecting action on this,” he said.

“Yeah, they are,” Danielsen said.

“In today’s world with computers and all kinds of communication ... I don’t know that we even need to go that far [90 days],” Fearrey said.

Coun. Lisa Schell, the deputy mayor of Minden Hills, said allowing six months as Danielsen suggested would bring the process into the summer. And that’s too long.

“Ninety days is a good idea,” she said. “I think it’ll give us a really good indicator of perhaps how many [short-term rental properties] there are within the county.

“Anybody who is interested will [register] in that time and it will give staff enough time, I think, to actually get the bylaw put in place.”

Ovell said there was 559 properties advertised in January 2022. In July 2022, there were 823 properties advertised for rent in Haliburton County.

In terms of a fee structure, the average daily rate in January was $234. In July, the average daily rate jumped to $341.

Through his own research as a fictious renter, Carter said he was quoted rates much higher than what Ovell found. Carter said there wasn’t a daily rate lower than $500 when he enquired about renting a property for June.

“Many of them were well over $1,000 per night,” Carter said. “I had made a request for six people. Just to get an idea of what was going to come back.”

Fearrey asked what would happen if an individual is injured or killed at a county-licensed rental property on a private road in winter.

“I think that’s a major [legal] issue for us,” he said.

Short-term rentals are proposed to be sorted into three classes based on number of establishments operated by owners and number of nights rented per year. Fees range from $250 for a Class A License (the operation of one property) to $750 for a Class C STR License (the operation of three or more properties).

County council seemed mired on the question of whether there should be two or three license classes.

Stone suggested the rate and license class be dictated by such factors as length of rentals and number of people.

Danielsen said maybe the number of bedrooms should determine license class.

“Frankly, I don’t really care about the number of people there,” Carter said. “I guess what I’m saying is that if I’ve got one unit and I’m renting it for less than 30 days, that’s very much the definition of somebody who uses their cottage most of the time themselves.”

He said those property owners may likely rent to friends every now and again. Another class of operator would be the person who bought the cottage solely as a money-making venture.

“It’s the number of days,” Carter said.

He said a license’s duration should be two or three years. That’ll cut down on administration costs, he said.


James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Haliburton County Echo