Letter to the editor: Short-term rental bylaw not needed
To the Editor,
Re Letter to the editor Oct. 2, by Timothy James “Short-term rental bylaw facts”
In his letter, Timothy suggests “some information about the proposed bylaw that is being circulated online is false.” He goes on to suggest that it is politically motivated. However, he does not identify which information is false in his letter or on his website. I disagree with most of what Timothy has said.
Timothy denies the perception that council tried to have the bylaw “pushed through.” This is not false or misleading information and certainly not “propaganda,” it’s a perception and opinion of many. I heard people speak at the meeting and have spoken to many people individually since. Highlands East has been working on this since 2016 when the task group was formed. The task group did not include any cottage owners who rent and who are clearly a major stakeholder.
At the meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 29 (mid-week when cottagers are seldom up), council voted on whether to amend the zoning bylaw to include short-term accommodation as a “use.” Had it not been for the overwhelming majority of outraged residents, it’s highly likely council would have passed this amendment and a regulatory bylaw would have become a forced and automatic result.
If the zoning bylaw was amended on Aug. 29, a regulatory bylaw would have been required and any debate on whether Highlands East should regulate short-term accommodations would have become futile. This is why residents feel that council, on recommendations from the task group, attempted to have the bylaw “pushed through.”
Timothy describes the proposed bylaw as a “simple licensing bylaw.” Anyone who has read the bylaw and other documents made public by the municipality will come to the conclusion that it is very restrictive and in some instances, prohibitive. It changes the zoning of a renter’s property. Renting cottages has been around for eons and is nothing new as Timothy suggests in his website. What has emerged quickly however, is short-term rentals of houses that are normally used as full-time primary residences in neighbourhoods where the majority of other houses are used as primary residences. This is a problem, especially in places like Toronto and Blue Mountain, however, it does not apply to waterfront properties in Highlands East as outlined below. The majority of properties around the most lakes (particularly in Highlands East) are used on a temporary and transient basis by their owners. Only a small minority of waterfront properties are used as primary residences.
On his website, Timothy suggests that the task group appointed by council in 2016 represents “the main stakeholders.” The municipality has advised the task group was made up of an AirBnB owner, rental agency owner, two councillors, and a concerned citizen. There is no representation from cottage owners who rent their cottage and who are the primary stakeholder. The notion that the task group was representative of “the main stakeholders” presented as a fact by Timothy, is clearly false. This is evident from the fact that council has decided to reform the task group or create a committee that will include this major stakeholder (cottage owners who rent).
Hopefully council will elect to form a committee. There is no transparency through public record of the work or meetings the task group carried out to reach their conclusions and recommendations that council vote to regulate short-term accommodations.
Timothy has suggested that under “our outdated zoning regulations, short-term accommodation is not permitted in most residential zones.” Leasing a property is, and has always been lawful, even in the absence of any authority granted by a municipal zoning bylaw. A lease is a “disposition” of property that conveys possession and certain rights to the property. A “use” is the “purpose” for which a person in possession of the property uses it for, in this case, for occupancy. Leasing of a property owned in “fee simple” (a term used in a deed or registration identifying ownership), for any term, is a lawful right granted to the owner of the property under common law in Canada. No other authority is required to make it a lawful disposition. In Highlands East, “transient” occupancy of a dwelling is already specified as a legal use in the zoning bylaw. Therefore, the inclusion of leasing or short-term leasing as a use in the zoning bylaw is inappropriate and unnecessary.
While the subject properties of this issue, namely waterfront properties, are permitted to be used continuously as primary residences, the original intent of the Highlands East zoning bylaw clearly identifies the transient nature in which these properties have always been used. In fact, the majority of waterfront properties are still currently used in a transient nature by their owners while only a small minority are used as primary residences. This is an important factor that distinguishes Highlands East from other cities where short-term leasing is a contentious issue.
Highlands East may be within its authority to regulate short-term leasing, however, the decades old practice of cottage rentals in Highlands East has, and always will be, a lawful practice even in absence of authority granted in the zoning bylaw.
Fort Erie recently decided not to regulate short-term accommodations because the cost of administration was estimated at $300,000 for one year while the revenue it would generate was estimated to be just above $17,000. Fort Erie council has instead decided to address the very small number of “problem” renters and owners through alternative means and increasing bylaw enforcement. This is a common sense approach that will save everyone money and will actually have the ability to address the concerns.
As a cottage property owner I feel strongly this bylaw is unwarranted and will damage the value of property and hurt local business. It is a tax grab directed at the municipality’s primary base of tax value. The fact that they first presented this as an environmental issue was quickly proven as baseless and they abandoned that reasoning.