The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands wants to gauge the public before recommending a policy on handling short-term rentals (STRs).
At the township council's virtual committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, members continued looking into concerns raised by a group of Killenbeck Lane residents.
On April 6, 2021, the Killenbeck Lane Residents Association voiced concerns about an existing STR operating from a property on the lane.
STRs are the rental of all or part of a residence for a short period of time (usually less than one month). Rentals are often processed through internet platforms such as Airbnb or Vacation Rentals by Owners (VRBO) but may also be transacted through online marketplaces such as Kijiji. In some situations, rentals may be an informal longstanding arrangement between renters and property owners that have spanned decades.
Staff's report notes that the reasons for regulating STRs vary depending on the municipality. In some places, this has been done to ensure that STR operators are remitting municipal accommodation taxes. Some municipalities regulate STRs to ensure that local rental housing opportunities are protected to address housing shortages. STR licensing also entails reviews of the subject property to ensure that there is adequate parking and that a property satisfies building and fire code requirements.
Some municipalities have taken the approach of establishing separation distances or a maximum density of STRs within an area.
Part of staff's review included an examination of approaches by comparable Ontario municipalities. The District Municipality of Muskoka includes six lower-tier municipalities of which only Huntsville and Lake of Bays regulate STRs. The other four municipalities have taken the approach of providing information on their respective websites on how to be a good renter and local by-laws.
Peterborough County includes eight lower-tier municipalities. Currently, two municipalities are conducting public consultations to determine the public's concerns and possible approaches to regulation.
Simcoe County includes sixteen lower-tier municipalities. Of these, Severn Township has taken the good neighbor policy approach through education and information for renters and three municipalities are currently conducting public consultations.
Based on staff's review, each municipality that has regulated STRs has undertaken significant public consultation prior to enacting a regulatory framework.
TLTI staff recommends that it is necessary to undertake broader public consultation to better understand experiences, opinions and suggestions from the public to determine what the concerns are regarding STRs and what action the public thinks is necessary.
The current easing of COVID-19 restrictions now permits owners from the United States to attend their properties in the township. In staff's view, it is appropriate to undertake public consultation over the summer/fall season to allow an opportunity for year-round and seasonal residents to comment.
Officials are proposing to prepare an online survey and include a brochure with information about existing bylaws and enforcement and a link to the survey in the next tax bill mailing. This will also involve preparing a page on the Township website to provide additional information about this review and the approach being taken. They will also use social media.
"The public consultation is vital to us to try to get everyone's input from all over this issue," said Coun. Brian Mabee said.
"Certainly, there's a lot of people out there who do want to weigh in on this and I think we’re going to have to take pretty well the whole summer and into the fall as indicated in the document to actually get a consensus on potential areas of making it right."
Staff have reviewed the number of bylaw enforcement calls that have been received over the last four years. During such period, there have been four properties that have been subject to concerns regarding STR use. This represents a small percentage of the number of by-law enforcement calls received staff's report reads.
Coun. Mark Jamison, who lives on a private road, said he appreciates this approach suggested by staff to undertake a broader public consultation, because the size of market will play a factor.
Concerns raised in the Township related to STRs include change of use of property, safety concerns, private road maintenance, concerns for local business owners and nuisance complaints.
"Complaints come in about behaviours, which are really hard to regulate," Jamison said.
Jamison added he’d like to see something functional and practical put in place to address "a problem that is relatively small, although if you’re in the middle of it it's big."
Coun. Terry Fodey said he believes that due to lifestyle changes under the COVID pandemic for the last two years, with mainly people realizing they can work from home or work remotely, there will be plenty of expansion in the field of STRs.
"I know I’ve talked to people that have bought or are currently buying what would be deemed as expensive properties, and they have full intent to pay off some of that debt by Airbnbing the properties," Fodey said. "I can see this whole program snowballing significantly."
Coun. Gordon Ohlke, said he does feel sympathy for residents affected by the development of STRs in the township.
"One of the trends we're in now is a generation that owns a lot of these properties who ultimately sell them and the younger generation coming along probably can't afford them so we may see more and more of these properties fall into the hands of people who actually don’t intend to live in them even part-time and want them for rental properties," Ohlke said. "There's certainly scope for some regulation, but it needs a lot of study."
Mayor Corinna Smith-Gatcke, gave a bit of a different perspective.
"I believe a lot of people who are selling properties in the urban centers are actually moving out here and living in them full-time," she said. "Not to say that they wouldn't necessarily go away for a month abroad and think about Airbnbing it to offset their month abroad or something to that effect."
(Keith Dempsey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)
Keith Dempsey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times