What are we doing about short-term rentals?

What are we doing? cover art

It’s expected the County’s deep dive into regulating short-term rentals will continue during an Oct. 26 County council meeting.

The process began in 2018 with Highlands East. It was the first lower-tier municipality to come close to passing a bylaw. However, amid much community angst, they never got such a bylaw across the line.

Algonquin Highlands had a preliminary crack at it as well, in 2020, but also could not bring any bylaw to fruition.

It was eventually decided that the County of Haliburton should take up the file. They hired consultant J.L. Richards and Associates in late December 2021 and the company has been working away ever since.

The County is clearly where this issue should be since any regulations have to be consistent across the Highlands.

At the last County council meeting on the topic Aug. 10, there appeared to be council consensus for a phased-in approach. It would begin with registering short-term rentals. This will provide a snapshot of the situation in the County and what townships might have to do to implement a bylaw.

After registration would come licensing. 

It’s a sensible approach. The County is saying we permit short-term rentals because we know it is good for tourism. Some jurisdictions have banned them outright. However, they have also said these owners will no longer have carte blanche, but must fit in with neighbours and not create safety or environmental concerns.

The consultants have, well, consulted; looking into what a number of other townships are doing. They talked to Airbnb, the Haliburton Kawartha Lakes Housing Corporation, Environment Haliburton and representatives of the cottage rental and maintenance industry, economic development and tourism. They also did a public survey.

A lot of councillors like what Lake of Bays is doing. It’s got a bylaw. Owners of short-term rentals there pay a licensing fee. It ranges from $250 to $750 depending on how many units a person has. Then there are annual renewal fees. Lake of Bays regulates how many people can stay, and how many vehicles they can bring. Many councillors like a demerit point system and fines for infractions.

Going forward, the County still must clearly define what a short-term rental is, as there is a big difference between renting out your cottage for two weeks a year  to pay for a new roof and renting it out 365 days of the year.

Most agree that the former should not be regulated but the latter is a business and should be treated as such. 

There has to be more investigation into the current widespread use of bunkies as rentals as well.

In chatting with Lake of Bays’ director of building and bylaw, Stephen Watson, he said their bylaw has been two years in the making. They hired a full-time, short-term rental coordinator in February but they’ve also contracted a third-party company, named Granicus, for monitoring, compliance and enforcement.

Watson said he’d be happy for Haliburton County to reach out for more information.

It is time to register, license and police short-term rentals in Haliburton County and County council and its lower-tier municipalities are getting closer to doing just that.