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Squamish may soon have harsher penalties for short-term rental non-compliance

Council members direct staff to pursue bylaw amendments increasing fines up to $3,000 and defining short-term rental as less than 90 days.
District of Squamish council recently agreed that fines for STRs that are not in compliance could increase from $500 to $3,000 per infraction, per day. | SrdjanPav E+ / Getty Images

Squamish vacation rental hosts could soon face harsher fines if they are not in compliance with District of Squamish regulations.

At the Feb. 13 committee of the whole meeting, District planner Aja Philp updated the five council members present on short-term rental (STR) compliance in Squamish. Mayor Armand Hurford and Coun. Jenna Stoner were absent from the meeting as they were attending a provincial housing summit.

After a lengthy discussion, council unanimously voted to direct staff to align the municipal definition of STR to the provincial definition, which would define a short-term rental as a stay of less than 90 days compared with the current less than 30 days. Additionally, fines could increase from $500 to $3,000 per infraction, per day. Lastly, staff will also explore eliminating monthly licensing and updating the annual licence fee, in hopes of reducing work for administrative staff and increasing local compliance.

These amendments will be reviewed by council again before being set in stone.

“I do support increasing the fees and becoming more aggressive in our enforcement. We've had a couple years with a lot of warnings, a lot of public information [and] education, and we've seen compliance rates remain fairly low,” said Coun. Chris Pettingill.

For context, Philp said that the STR licensing compliance rate in 2023 was 48%, a slight drop from 2022 at 49%. However, the total number of units in non-compliance increased from 98 in 2022 to 161 in 2023. There was a similar jump for compliance going from 95 units in 2022 to 146 in 2023.

“We received 38 public complaints, 103 properties were flagged for enforcement, 25 warning letters were sent out, and 18 fines were issued,” she said of 2023 enforcement by the District. The District report on the matter noted that this was the highest number of complaints received since they instituted the regulations. 

“I'm also in favour of increasing the fines, though it sounds like these $3,000 fines aren't likely to be frequently issued. But it's still nice to have that serve as a deterrent for non-compliance,” said Coun. Lauren Greenlaw. “And for the record, I'm also in favour of fining more people who aren't in compliance as a general rule.”

While Coun. Andrew Hamilton said he was not opposed to fine increases and he would like to see how these fines compare to other bylaw infractions.

The District limited short-term rentals in November 2020 to primary residences, although they allowed up to 30 temporary use permits (TUPs) for secondary suites or accessory dwelling units, such as coach houses. The goal was to stabilize the long-term rental supply in Squamish.

“It's estimated that suites and accessory dwelling units continue to represent a significant portion of the STR inventory in Squamish,” said Philp. “Staff conducted a search through the descriptions of local STR listings on Airbnb for the term suite and we found a total of 56 results.”

The report noted only 14 of the 30 available TUPs were used in 2023.

The province’s rules, however, allow primary residences plus one secondary suite or accessory dwelling unit to be used for a STR by a homeowner. Hamilton said he was concerned by this lack of alignment.

“As we know, just because a suite comes out of the STR market doesn't mean it enters the long-term market,” he said. “So, to me, it's not clear that the cost of the enforcement of the secondary suites is going to be worth the addition to our rental stock.”

Also as part of these new rules, Philp said B.C. will be requiring STR platforms, like Airbnb or VRBO, to share data with the province which will then share with municipal governments.

“If a listing does not include a valid business licence number, the STR platform must remove the listing at the request of the local government,” said Philp.

View this council meeting on the District’s YouTube channel or read the District report on council’s Feb. 13 agenda


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