Muskoka cottage rentals get the green light, as province lifts short-term rental ban

·3 min read

The provincial government has removed the ban on short-term rentals.

The ban, which went into effect April 4, under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, prohibited property owners from renting to guests for a period less than 28 days.

Initially the policy was enacted as a safety measure due to Covid-19, to eliminate unnecessary travel and exposure to communities. However, there was confusion over reservations in place prior to April 4 and what structures — motels, cottages, etc. — were considered off limits and to whom.

Lodges, cabins, cottages, homes, condominiums and bed-and-breakfast rentals are now permitted across the province, according to a news release from Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller.

“While this will in no way be a normal summer at least this will give these businesses a chance to survive the COVID-19 crisis,” Miller said in a statement, thanking owners for their patience. “The opening of these facilities will also bring more customers to shops and other small businesses.”

Doug Ingram runs Ingram Cottages, with two rental properties in Bala and Gravenhurst. Prior to today, he reached out to local and provincial government who directed him to a hotline for business concerns during Covid that said he was permitted to rent to families who reside in the same home.

Still the ban restricted the length of his guests’ stay, a challenge considering the bulk of his summer business is from Canadians renting weekly.

With restrictions removed, he said, “we’re all ready to go,” pointing to a full roster of bookings, enhanced cleaning protocols and specific Covid guidelines he designed for staff and guests. “Everything has a risk management to it.”

Despite the challenges, demand has been “crazy,” at Jayne’s Cottages, said owner and operator, Jayne McCaw. “We’re having a blockbuster season.”

Typically, McCaw sees 30 per cent of her summer business come from American and other international travellers, many who book one of her 200-plus cottages for a week or two. Because of Covid and the short-term rental ban, requests for month-long stays have tripled, she said.

McCaw and her colleagues in the industry, formed the Ontario Cottage Rental Managers Association to advocate for reopening, writing to Premier Doug Ford to outline measures taken to keep guests safe during the pandemic.

At Jayne’s Cottages, guests are met in person at a safe distance to complete a waiver that states no one in the party is ill or showing symptoms. McCaw has reduced the maximum number of guests per cottage to 10, decreased rental prices to reflect that, included Covid cleaning kits in each cottage and will leave two days between each rental.

“It’s been so stressful,” she said, as some property owners she works with have removed their cottages from her inventory out of concerns for safety. Despite the challenges and with the ban now lifted, McCaw expects a prosperous season.

“With no day camps running or for those who don’t have the neighbourhood pool anymore, or who can’t go to Europe, their summer is so different,” she said. “People are coming to Muskoka that don’t usually.”

Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government.

Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com