With the Victoria Day long weekend looming, it’s a good time to review the province’s stay-at-home order for both seasonal residents and short-term rentals.

For those who may have missed it, the lockdown specifically states that people living outside of Haliburton County can come to their cottage to manage it for less than 24 hours or stay more than two weeks. There is nothing in the rules allowing anybody to come for the weekend. 

However, we all know that cottagers will make their way to the Highlands for the May 24 weekend. After all, there is nothing to stop them. There won’t be any OPP roadblocks or municipal bylaw officers making the rounds unless there are egregious acts, such as large gatherings.

While it is not our intention to start yet another ‘us’ versus ‘them’ war in the County, we can only implore those coming to follow COVID-19 protocols.

No doubt about it, they will be welcomed by gas stations, grocery stores, retail outlets, garden centres and eating establishments.

Economics will upstage public health. It’s not a big surprise. Here in the Highlands, health has been actively competing with economics for months now. That’s why local politicians have skated around the issue of cottagers coming during COVID.

This takes us to the short-term rental issue. 

Under the rules, cottage owners cannot rent out their spaces for recreation, only emergency housing. 

But we are hearing from cottage management companies that while they have cancelled bookings until June 2, those using online platforms such as Airbnb are breaking the rules. It is not a level playing field.

So, news that the County is considering taking on short-term rental regulations is welcome since the lower-tier municipalities have proven woefully inadequate in tackling the issue.

County councillors will go back to their respective councils to see if they’re interested.

They should be. It’s an idea that’s time is long past.

Seasonal cottager owners have a case when they come since they are paying thousands of dollars in property taxes and most of them do follow the rules They care about the County, its physical health and its economic well-being.

Short-term renters are another kettle of fish. They don’t have the long-term investment in our community and often don’t share our values. As such, some of the people who rent to them on Airbnb and other online platforms need to be regulated.

More and more seasonal properties are becoming Airbnb short-term rentals. As such, there needs to be more enforcement and municipal government have to educate better about restrictions.

It would help if municipalities implemented a licencing system and code-of-conduct for short-term rentals. 

There’s nothing wrong with fining people. If they are renting incorrectly during a stay-at-home order, fine them. If they are leasing to too many people than their septic system can support, fine them. If their guests are setting off fireworks in contravention of bylaws, fine them. 

To seriously do anything about all of this, though, the County’s politicians must ensure the support of OPP and budget for sufficient bylaw coverage on weeknights and weekends. Do this, and enforce regulations, and it will go a long way towards eliminating the few bad apples that are out there in cottage country.

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