After an almost five-hour discussion at Monday’s planning committee, councillors agreed to changes to the short-term rentals, and to forming another working group to continue looking at other issues, such as enforcement of existing bylaws, and future capping of new licences.
Councillors listened to several accommodation rental owners with concerns, including their opposition to a primary principal residence requirement for the owners, but that requirement had been removed from the recommendations in response to the strong opposition received by staff.
John Foreman, president of the NOTL Bed and Breakfast Association, and David Levesque, past-president, were among those asking for a deferral of the decisions before councillors Monday, and a further review of changes to the bylaw with a committee that includes stakeholders.
“At the end of the day,” said Levesque, “I believe what is being presented is getting close to an end product, but reading it now from an industry perspective, I just know this is not ready to be voted upon as is.”
Levesque asked council to “push pause,” and allow industry representatives to formally weigh in on this topic. “Part of these proposals could possibly be voted forward as is, and other parts just need more attention,” he said, adding, “2020 has been so difficult; everyone I’ve been dealing with is tired, scared, on edge, and barely holding it together frankly.”
Although they didn’t get a deferral of the recommendations on the table, they did get the formation of a committee to continue looking at other issues.
One of the topics councillors discussed was spending $45,000 to hire a third-party company to acquire data on unlicensed rentals operating in town. That recommendation was approved, although councillors were warned by Coun. Erwin Wiens that the information would be “anecdotal only,” and town staff will still have to deal with it.
The compliance and data collection service, to be contracted for a one-year pilot, includes “24/7 support for complaint resolution,” the staff report says. “Residents will be able to use the compliance hotline in order to file a complaint at anytime of day. The third party compliance company will contact the operator or property manager to advise them of the complaint. The operator or property manager will be required to respond to the complaint within forty-five minutes. Failure to respond may result in applicable fines.” Town staff will be required to do any follow-ups resulting from the collection of data.
One service the majority of councillors supported was having data that provides evidence of advertising by rental establishments who are not licensed. The bylaw requires licensed rental ads to include their licence number in their marketing and advertisements.
Councillors also approved having two interim reports prepared by staff on the pilot project in 2021, with a final report due in November.
The discussion included councillors’ concerns about “hollowing out” of certain neighbourhoods, where a high percentage of homes are short-term rentals, many owned by part-time residents who plan to retire and live in town permanently one day. That means that during the winter months, many of those homes are empty, said Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
Another concern, expressed by Coun. Clare Cameron, is the impact of short-term rentals on the availability of housing stock for families, and it was agreed that future discussions should include capping the number of rentals and possibly limiting them to certain areas.
Councillors agreed that the issues are complex, and the bylaw needs more work. A working committee will include three members of the industry, two residents and two councillors will look at issues not included in the bylaw changes for a report in April.
Although the report recommended a fee increase to $40 a room, an amendment by Coun. Norm Arsenault asking an increase in the per-room licensing fee to $175 was approved, as was lifting the current moratorium on licensing.
Council will meet Monday to ratify or make changes to the planning committee approvals.