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Breaking down B.C.'s new short-term rental rules: What Squamish residents need to know

New rules hit Squamish as province targets vacation rentals to ease the housing crunch.
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Goodness knows Squamish has a housing crisis, as do many communities in B.C. 

In response to the crisis, the provincial government has introduced legislation to crack down on vacation rentals. The goal is to free up more housing for long-term renters.

But how will the new provincial short-term—otherwise known as vacation—rental legislation impact Squamish? 

What is happening? 

The newly introduced legislation will come into effect in phases and will include:

This will come into effect immediately after Royal Assent:

  • A requirement for short-term rental platforms to include businesses' licence numbers on listings.
  • A requirement for online short-term rental platforms to share their data with the provincial government. This will come into effect in the summer of 2024.
  • A requirement for short-term rentals to be offered only in the principal residence plus one secondary suite or laneway home/garden suite on the property. This will be in effect as of May 1, 2024.

The plan also includes new business licensing authority for regional districts, which will also come into effect immediately after Royal Assent.

The province says it will establish a provincial host-and-platform registry by late 2024 and launch a provincial short-term rental compliance and enforcement unit to make sure the rules are being followed.

The rules do not apply to reserve lands or hotels and motels. 

What are the rules in Squamish right now?

Under our current bylaws in Squamish, short-term rentals are only allowed if a person owns their house and rents it out. They can leave and rent it out for up to 30 days.

Homeowners can only rent out a coach house, or a secondary suite in Squamish if they have a temporary use permit (TUP). The District permit program allows a total of 30 temporary use permits to be issued for secondary suites or accessory dwelling units. 

Short-term rentals that are advertised on any online site must include their District business licence with the advertisement. 

If a homeowner is caught renting an unauthorized short-term rental, they can face a fine of $500 per day per offence. 

So far this year, there are 140 active Squamish business licences for vacation rentals, according to Jonas Velaniskis, the District of Squamish's director of development services.

Stats on enforcement aren't available currently but will be presented to council during an annual update in January, Velaniskis said.

He did note that last year there was just shy of 50% compliance with the local rules.

"My sense is that we're going to be in a similar situation by the end of this year unless these [provincial] changes have an immediate impact in the last two months of the year, which they might," Velaniskis said.

The District isn't sure if it will increase its fines for non-compliance, but it could, under the new regulations. 

Of the provincial legislation overall, Velaniskis said he suspects it will have a "pretty big impact" on short-term rentals in Squamish.

"This is very positive in one, it's expected to push a lot of that half of the listings into compliance," he said. 

He applauded the province's data-sharing initiative, which will give the District and other municipalities more accurate and dependable data. 

So far, online vacation hosting sites haven't been very forthcoming with local governments in terms of helping with compliance, but the province carries a bigger stick, so to speak.

"So, now that this is going to be a requirement from the province, every listing in Squamish is going to have to provide a business licence number."

The other change that has significant implications for Squamish is that the province is changing the definition of a short-term rental to 90 days or less. 

"Our current definition is 30 days or less," Velaniskis said, adding that District bylaws must be updated to note this change. "If somebody previously was listing on Airbnb, or something like that, for more than 30 days, they didn't have to have a business licence because it's [currently] considered a long-term rental. Now they will."

The provincial government having its own enforcement unit will potentially help Squamish as well, in that it will be, ideally, catching big offenders. 

Velaniskis didn't think the changes would cause any more or less work for District staff.

Tourism Squamish reaction

In response to the legislation and changes provincially, Lesley Weeks, executive director of Tourism Squamish said that the organization has been advocating for the last two years for "enforceable, accessible, and equitable regulation of short-term rentals to prevent homes /condos from being used as commercial 'ghost hotels.’"

"Our focus is twofold; firstly, to assist homeowners whose principal residences have suitable spaces that may not be conducive to, or chosen for, long-term rentals to instead provide short-term nightly rentals on their properties," Weeks said in an emailed statement to The Squamish Chief.  

"Secondly, to ensure that there are no short-term rentals in non-principal residences. We need to make it easier for people to comply with the rules. We are glad that the District acted on our request to lower the cost of licensing by dropping the utility surcharges for short-term rentals within principal residences and we continue to work with them to more clearly explain to homeowners how they can comply with the rules." 

Weeks noted that District of Squamish staff have acknowledged that enforcing the Short Term Rental bylaw is a challenge. 

"We anticipate that the province will have more success on this front due to their greater resources and jurisdiction. We welcome the new provincial legislation; there are some questions about how the details of provincial versus municipal rules will harmonize. However, we are confident that we are moving in the right direction and look forward to continuing to work with the District staff on implementation. "

The Chamber of Commerce reaction

Christopher Fehr, executive director of the Squamish Chamber of Commerce, echoed much of Weeks' response. 

"We understand that not every suite that is available qualifies as a long-term rental, and so providing clear communication with resources for our homeowners will assist our community long term," he said, in an emailed statement to The Squamish Chief. 

He said the chamber also welcomes the new provincial legislation.  

"Different types of housing need to be introduced to help balance the workforce needs in our community. The housing market currently leaves a large gap in the middle-income bracket where skilled workers cannot enter the market," Fehr added. "As a result, we are seeing skilled workers leave our community for more affordable communities elsewhere in B.C. This stresses the importance of avoiding a singular focus of entry-level rental units that are filling the development pipeline."

SLRD impact

For the first time, regional districts—such as the SLRD—will be able to regulate and license short-term rentals and other businesses, as municipalities do.

Under the provincial changes, the maximum fine that regional districts can set for prosecutions of bylaw offences under the Offence Act will increase from $2,000 to $50,000. This is consistent with the maximum fines for municipalities under the Community Charter.

The SLRD sent the following statement regarding the changes: "Once the new legislation is approved, staff will review bylaws and prepare a plan to address the changes for all the Electoral Areas as needed. Nightly rentals are generally not allowed in the SLRD, so this will not likely trigger many changes."

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