Highlands East council is forging ahead with plans to create a short-term rental bylaw.

Council voted unanimously at a special meeting Nov. 19 to direct staff to draft the bylaw. The motion comes after the municipality completed a survey of residents, with 62 per cent indicating they would like to see regulations.

“The people have spoken here,” Coun. Suzanne Partridge said.

Councillors discussed what should be part of the new law. Although there were no specifics, councillors agreed to include licencing. They also want to adjust the zoning bylaw to make rentals a permitted use. Council identified recurring issues from survey comments, such as noise, fireworks, environment and parking.

“If we don’t have a licencing system, we can’t deal with the overloading of septic (systems), the parking,” Partridge said. “Those issues that aren’t covered by another bylaw.”

However, councillors also said issues that are not specific to rentals, such as noise, should be addressed through other bylaws.

“A lot of the (comments) dealt with violations that are already covered by bylaws existing right now or provincial legislation,” Coun. Cam McKenzie said.

CAO Shannon Hunter said the municipality needs to educate. In the survey, 57 per cent of respondents said they did not contact anyone when they saw unwanted behaviours from neighbouring rentals.

“I’m hoping we can do an education piece that says these are your options if you have concerns,” Hunter said.

However, McKenzie said some people are skeptical about whether anything will happen if OPP or bylaw enforcement are called.

“People didn’t show a lot of confidence,” McKenzie said. “People are frustrated that nobody’s enforcing what we already have.”

The discussion also touched on ideas such as regulating rentals based on the season or granting exemptions if a property is rented for less than three weeks, which were subjects of survey questions. But there was no consensus, with concerns about enforcement difficulty raised.

“We can’t regulate if it’s under three weeks,” Partridge said. “Either we regulate short-term accommodations or we don’t.”

Deputy mayor Cec Ryall said creating regulations would need to come in parts. He cautioned against tackling aspects like fee structures at the same time as legally recognizing rentals.

“If there’s a road to success, it has to be incremental,” Ryall said. “It cannot be the whole elephant.”

Hunter said details such as fees would come later in the process.

“Everyone realizes this is going to be a slow process,” Hunter said. “There’s going to be quite a few strikes on the page.”

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