Corralling short-term rentals

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Minden Hills coun. Pam Sayne hit the proverbial nail on the head at the last council meeting when she said the province of Ontario has left its municipalities hanging in the wind when it comes to short-term rentals.

The government has turned a blind eye as this province’s housing shortage has been exacerbated by an explosion of STRs. Perhaps they wouldn’t need a Better Homes Built Faster Act had they tackled this file years ago.

Instead, they have sat idly by as what used to be renting out the family cottage to friends and neighbours to pay for the new roof has turned into a multi-million-dollar, if not multi-billion-dollar, industry in Ontario. In Haliburton County, we have seen the number of listings on online websites grow at an alarming, and unregulated rate.

Now, it’s no longer a short-term rental to keep up with the costs or repairs, it’s an industry in which some short-term rental owners are never sighted. Others own more than one property. Some are held by offshore interests.

Small wonder, as Sayne said, it’s impacting the very fabric of our communities. We used to know our neighbours. Now, more frequently, we have new neighbours coming every weekend, week, fortnight or month.

The province’s lack of action has forced the County of Haliburton, and now its four lower-tier municipalities, to spend countless resources on trying to get the horse back into the barn. In fact, most of Ontario’s 444 municipalities have been, or are being, tasked with the same challenge.

The province of British Columbia this week announced new regulations to tackle the issue.

They have teeth. A person can be fined up to $300,000 if their short-term rental is an egregious breaker of the rules. All it might take is one Highlands STR to be fined $300,000 to get the bad apple barrel righted.

They are also forcing renters to use mandatory platforms, not just throw their rentals on unregulated sites. If they break the rules, their STR ad can be taken down. They must be licensed as businesses, which, they are. Another biggie is a principal residence requirement. In other words, people can’t buy multiple properties and operate them as short-term rentals. Hosts will be limited to one guest suite on a property. There will be some exemptions for tourism, and smaller communities.

What was announced this week provides more provincial oversight and assistance that municipalities desperately need.

Even more importantly, the BC legislation is aimed at ensuring more people can actually get homes in that province. It’s about increasing the housing stock as well as making it more affordable.

We hope Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott caught this week’s news. Wouldn’t it be great if she lobbied on behalf of her cottage country constituents that the Doug Ford government look at implementing similar rules and regulations for Ontario? Minden Hills mayor Bob Carter hinted at something being done at Queen’s Park. We hope so.

Better yet, though, imagine if all of Canada’s provinces and territories got together and had one national set of rules and regulations for short-term rentals?

We learned this week the federal government is actively examining options to crack down on STRs. Let’s hope something comes of it.