Short Term Rentals: Real action needed for rural areas

I sent the following letter to the Union of BC Municipalities and the Minister of Municipal Affairs on November 24, 2021.

Dear UBCM,

I am writing to express my disappointment in UBCM’s long awaited report “Priorities for Action on Short Term Rentals.” While the report summarizes the problem and outlines some laudable principles, there is no help here that I can see to meet the crisis in unincorporated areas of this province. We are disproportionately impacted by STRs since so many of BC’s popular recreation and summer home areas lie outside of municipal boundaries.

The solution being held out is to institute business licensing in rural areas of regional districts. This measure would likely take 3 to 5 years to implement, and in the meantime we face the rising wrath of residents who have been waiting for years for a solution to a worsening problem. What’s more, I don’t think it would work. STR owners are highly incentivized and nimble. I expect they would find a way around the business license requirements for online booking platforms. We risk setting up yet another bureaucracy (at considerable cost to taxpayers), only to have it become irrelevant practically overnight.

I further believe that business licenses are untenable for these reasons:

  • Business licensing is extremely unpopular with many rural residents, so it is most unlikely we could win voter approval for such a service.
  • It would be difficult, probably impossible, to collect enough revenue to cover the costs of setting up and operating such a program.
  • The SCRD, like many local governments, is already struggling with bylaw enforcement capacity, due to rising demand and difficulty recruiting staff. Trying to enforce business licensing would only give us an additional set of headaches.
  • This adds another layer of bureaucracy to a system already overburdened with regulation.

In my view, the electoral areas need two things. We need a simple method of issuing bylaw tickets based on the existence of online listings (rather than requiring a bylaw officer to attend the property). And then we need a way to enforce compliance with our bylaws and compel payment of the fines. Enforcing compliance might mean something like cancelling the occupancy permit. Enforcing fines could mean having the authority to apply unpaid fines to property taxes. (Many STR operators live out of province or out of the country and are fully aware that we lack capacity to take them to court.)

I would like to see UBCM immediately strike a task force of EA Directors, with provincial staff support, to brainstorm some practical strategies that can be implemented quickly.

We need help and we need it now. We’re facing yet another summer where STR owners break our bylaws with impunity and the local government, unable to take any effective action in response to an avalanche of complaints from angry neighbours, ends up looking stupid and ineffective. Residents are selling their homes and moving away from desirable neighbourhoods, leaving us with clusters of party houses occupied by visitors who don’t care about the damage and disruption they cause. Investment in new hotels has been disincentivized, since STRs don’t have to meet any regulatory standards or pay commercial taxes. And the large profits that can be earned by repurposing residential housing stock as mini hotels is pouring fuel on our housing crisis.

Donna McMahon

Vice Chair, Director, Area E
Sunshine Coast Regional District

Posted by Donna