Midland 'ghost hotel, party house' prompts revisit to STR bylaws

·4 min read

A property on the deep inner corner of Riverwalk Place was brought to Midland council’s attention during a deputation on short-term rentals, including a signed petition from 34 neighbouring residents and several letters of concern all mentioning the ‘party house.'

Helena Nelson, who lives across the street from the short-term rental, provided council the details of the disruption during a recent regular meeting, offering to further provide them with redacted private footage.

“For the past two years, we’ve been subjected to an Airbnb rental on our street,” said Nelson, “and have come to learn that this home and those like it are known to the general public as ‘ghost hotels.' This property is being advertised in two separate places on Airbnb: as a cottage and as an executive home.”

In searching Riverwalk Place through the popular rental service provider, a single property appeared advertised in the area of townhouses under three separate instances, complete with outdoor pool and hot tub.

Magdalena Wisniewski provided a letter to council, as well as appearing before them during the deputation. She stated the property directly behind her had the pool built in 2020, with modifications turning the four-bedroom home like her own into an advertised seven-bedroom hotel to accommodate 14 guests, charging a fee between $640 to $1,025 per night for a minimum two-night stay.

Nelson and Wisniewski informed council that they had spoken to Airbnb with no resolution and to OPP on several occasions, but were requesting the town do something about the situation. They also requested council privately view a redacted video of one instance “with unbelievable sounds.”

“We are asking council and staff to come up with a ‘made-for-Midland’ solution to prohibit short-term rentals of under 30 days in residential neighbourhoods.”

Members of council were sympathetic, with both Mayor Stewart Strathearn and Deputy Mayor Mike Ross admitting they felt the issue would never come to Midland. CAO David Denault reassured the residents that staff had anticipated the discussion of short-term rentals, and had been keeping abreast of issues within town.

“We’re aware of the property that you’ve referenced, and we did do a search on the bylaw complaints made against the property. All were investigated,” said Denault, adding that the property owner had complied with all requests made by the town. He offered that staff would look into giving the bylaws some teeth.

“However with a property of this standard, it may just become a standard that they’ll build into their business model,” Denault stated. “If the fine isn’t very heavy, they’ll just build it into the price.”

One suggestion raised by Coun. Bill Gordon involved taking a hard stance against short-term rentals in a similar fashion to regulations within Haliburton County.

He was referencing the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit instance last month, as reported by another news agency. Hot tubs were forced to shut down across the districts for not being in compliance with provincial regulations of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, based on dwelling units available for rent.

“I believe commercial enterprises are not allowed in residential zones (in Midland),” responded Nelson to Gordon’s suggestion.

“Except under the home occupation (zoning) bylaw,” clarified Strathearn.

The bylaw reads that home occupation: shall not become offensive or obnoxious or create a public nuisance by reason of hours of operation or emission of odour, dust, smoke, noise, gas, glare, fumes, light, vibration, radiation, debris, heat, humidity or refuse which is apparent from adjacent properties and/or which exceed limits established by Town by-laws and Provincial legislation.

“You can see by the motion coming out of this that we are taking it seriously,” Strathearn informed the residents. “I was hoping this would not happen here, but clearly it has and so we’ll need to deal with it.”

Council agreed to let staff look into the matter, reviewing bylaw and building code enforcements, and undertake a review of short-term-rental policies.

The letters of deputation regarding the Riverwalk Place property, including the signed petition of 34 residents, are available within the council agenda on the Town of Midland website.

Council meetings are held every third Wednesday, and can be attended in person or virtually through Zoom by contacting the clerk’s department of Midland town hall for a link to the meeting.

Council meetings can also be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca