Criticism for short-term rental bylaw
By Chad Ingram
Published Sept. 4, 2018
While there was both support for and opposition to a proposed bylaw in Highlands East that would regulate short-term rentals, the vast majority of those who spoke at a public meeting on Aug. 29 spoke against the bylaw.
About 100 residents filled the Lloyd Watson Memorial Centre for the meeting.
Since the issue first came through one of the township’s advisory committees two years ago, a task group has been working on the creation of a bylaw.
Technically, council is actually looking at two bylaws. One would be an amendment to township’s zoning bylaw, to make short-term rental accommodations a permitted use. Currently, they are not listed as a permitted use in the zoning bylaw.
The second bylaw, which would exist under the auspices of the Municipal Act, would regulate short-term rental accommodations and penalize those who don’t comply.
Among the features of the proposed bylaw are a licensing fee that would be $300 to cover a three-year period; a limit of two renters per bedroom, plus an additional two people, per household; a minimum rental of five consecutive nights; and a limit of one rental dwelling per person per lake.
Some residents voiced concern about the working group itself, which consisted of one “concerned citizen,” one representative of a cottage rental agency, one operator of an AirBnb, and two members of council.
“I don’t believe that is a fair cross-section at all,” one woman told council.
Another asked if the public could see minutes from meetings of the task group, but was told by staff that no minutes were kept, since it was a working group, not an advisory committee. There was also criticism that the task group had been hand-selected, and that a public call for members had not gone out.
A number of residents criticized the proposed bylaw for babying or micromanaging property owners.
“They don’t need to be told like children how to deal with their renters,” said Cheryl Ellis, who is running against Mayor Dave Burton for his seat in the upcoming municipal election.
Many of the people who spoke were residents who rent out their cottages, and they stressed they responsibly vet people who use their properties and that if renters are problematic, they don’t return.
“That’s certainly the case as it is with me, poor guests are not invited back,” one man told councillors.
He also noted that renting out his waterfront property allows him and wife to own it in the first place.
“We want to pass this tradition along to our children,” he said, noting how expensive it has become to get into the cottage market.
Many noted that while renters seem to get blamed for noise and parking problems, there are many “locals” or property owners who generate those problems as well.
One woman said it’s written in her rental agreement that she can come by for spot checks on renters, and that if they are breaking any of her rules, she can evict them immediately.
Resident Steve Cosentino, who ran against Burton in the 2014 election, said he thought council was creating two sets of standards; one for renters, and one for owners.
“I think the same thing should apply to owners, if you’re going to go down this road,” Cosentino said. “I think if maybe we were all on the same playing field, then maybe this wouldn’t be an issue.”
Cosentino prefaced his remarks by saying, “You are really a brave bunch of people sitting up there, I’ll give you that.”
There was palpable tension in the room throughout the two-hour meeting.
Another common criticism was that if the township just enforced its existing noise and parking bylaws, there would be no need for a bylaw regulating short-term rentals.
Cheryl Easton, a Bancroft area realtor, told councillors they should think about what a regulatory bylaw could do to property values, or how it might affect whether or not people buy property within Highlands East.
“The biggest thing you need to think about, is what is your resale value going to be if this is passed,” she said, adding she could foresee potential buyers asking where they could go to find properties without rental restrictions.
“I’ll take them to Baptiste, I’ll take them to Wollaston,” she said.
One man who spoke in favour of the proposed bylaw said cottages that are rented out regularly are essentially businesses, and therefore should be zoned and taxed commercially.
“You buy a second, and a third . . . then it’s a business,” he said, adding later, “Something needs to be done to legalize what’s going on.”
One woman who spoke against short-term rentals told councillors she wanted to know who lived in the residences around her.
“I want to know who my neighbours are,” she said, adding that more and more places are for rent for longer periods of time. “It’s becoming too many, too often.”
Burton told the audience that all of the feedback would be carefully considered by the task group, and agreed to add three new members to the group.
Highlands East would be the first township in Haliburton County to pass a bylaw regulating rentals.