After three Highlands resorts had their hot tub facilities closed, owners say Ontario’s hot tub regulations unfairly target small operations in the Highlands.

In July, the Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) issued orders to close multiple hot tubs at Buttermilk Falls Resort, Sandy Lanes Resort and Lakeview Motel and Resort.

Richard Ovcharovich, a manager with the health unit, said the Ontario Building Code and Ontario Regulation 565 Public Pools “do not permit the use of private backyard domestic spas (whirlpools) to be used at hotels, travel accommodations or resorts that have six or more units or suites.”

The regulations have been in place for decades but were updated in 2018, mandating these whirlpools be equipped with timing devices, have no food or beverages close by, are made inaccessible outside of a daily use period and have a landline phone nearby, even if they are only accessed by residents of the suite. All three resorts have had hot tubs in operation since before 2018.

“We’ve had hot tubs on this property for over a decade and nobody has ever gotten injured or gotten sick as a result of these tubs,” said Stephen Orr of Buttermilk Falls Resort.

Private tubs ‘main attractions’ at motel

In a written document outlining his concerns, Orr wrote: “With no outreach, no warning, no education program, and most importantly no new health and safety related issues, the resorts are being told to shut down an important revenue stream, one that they have used safely for literally decades. Coming into compliance would be prohibitively expensive for any small business, and as a result they are closing down a critical feature of our business with no practical way of reopening, for no health and safety related reason. This is completely unfair.”

Ovcharovich said “no compliance period was granted as these specific spas were missing many of the required safety features and they were not being maintained accordingly… The orders were issued as the public health inspector deemed these spas as being a health hazard and the direction was necessary to eliminate the health hazard.”

Ovcharovich said multiple infractions meant the closures were necessary, including no chemistry records being taken, water chemistry not being balanced, the units not having emergency stop buttons and missing safety signage.

The enforcement of the regulation in Haliburton County seems to have been sparked by a July inspection of Lakeview Motel in Haliburton. After coming to the property on another matter, inspectors returned to close the motel’s hot tubs used by private rooms. Lakeview Motel appealed the decision, which was then upheld by the Health Services Appeal and Review Board.

“Our hot tubs are one of the main attractions,” said co-owner of Lakeview Motel Harsha Manani.

She said the hot tubs have been in operation at the motel for years. Staff drain and refill each room’s hot tub after each use.

Orr said the regulation is unrealistic for private hot tubs, including having no food or drink nearby, closing the hot tub after use at night or installing landline phones in each unit.

“Everybody we’ve talked to outside of the health unit has said.. there’s no way this should be applied this way,” said Orr. He said multiple guests who have come to expect use of hot tubs over the years have voiced disappointment.

Orr said he’s spoken with resort operators in districts such as Muskoka and Hasting Highlands. In both cases, he said operators claimed they had not heard of this regulation being enforced, even though it is an Ontariowide regulation.

HKPR staff are responsible for enforcement of the regulation in this area.

Ovcharovich said these rules have been enforced outside of Haliburton County. He said the inspections are investigated on a complaint basis.

At all three resorts, private hot tubs have been in use for decades. Orr and Manani estimate the loss of their private hot tubs will cost them tens of thousands of dollars in missed revenue.

“I take in phone calls and emails, and I hear guests upset and disappointed,” said Manani.

Orr wrote: “The best way forward is to work to amend the regulation in a manner that would allow the resorts to go back to operating their hot tubs as they have done in the past, either by clarifying the regulation to exclude portable hot tubs entirely.”