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Squamish vacation rentals drop by 50%

It’s unclear if the pandemic, new regulations, or both are responsible for the decrease.
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Short-term rental activity has been cut in half since it became regulated in town, but it’s unclear if tighter rules or the COVID-19 pandemic is the cause.

On Oct. 12, District planner Aja Philp provided an update to council on how vacation or Airbnb-type rentals are faring in Squamish ever since elected officials adopted a set of rules governing them.

Philp showed there were over 400 vacation rentals in July 2020, a few months before the District adopted its current short-term rental regulations in November that year.

By March 2021, that number had dropped to about 200.

In July, that figure dropped even further to about 160.

“It’s difficult for us to determine the exact factors that caused this decline,” said Philp.

“Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact. The District passing and enforcing STR regulations could have had an impact, but we don’t know to what extent either factor influenced folks’ decision to exit the STR market.”

As of November 2020, people were allowed to only host short-term rentals in a unit where they live and spend the majority of their time — at least five months out of a year.

Airbnb-style rentals on secondary suites and units were banned, though an application system was created to allow some exceptions to this rule.

Philp also took note of trends between the occupancy rate of short-term rentals between this year and last year.

“We’re consistently seeing a higher occupancy rate in 2021...compared [with] last year,” she said.

She also noted the trend regarding availability of vacation rental rooms.

“Room availability has been consistently lower for 2021 compared [with] last year,” she said.

“Year over year, we’ve seen a significant decrease in the STR inventory that’s available to overnight visitors. The occupancy rates have increased, which is showing there’s a clear demand for STR overnight accommodation.”

The ultimate goal of the short-term rental regulations was to preserve at least some of the long-term rental units in town. It was hoped that this would at least partially help with the housing crisis in town, which has been recording a near-0% vacancy rate in recent years.

Philp didn’t say whether the new regulations had a direct cause in this case, but she noted that vacancy rates for long-term rentals have increased.

“The long-term rental housing market continues to be very challenging,” she said. “However, there’s a small glimmer of hope with the latest 2020 [Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation] rental market survey recording a 1.4% vacancy rate, which is a small increase of the previous three years in which we’ve had a 0.3% vacancy rate.”

Long-term rental vacancy rates of around 3% are generally considered to be a healthy target, she said.

Another report that may paint a better picture is the 2021 Census, which is due out in September 2022, she said.

The District’s regulations stipulate that anyone who wishes to operate a vacation rental must be licensed.

So far, the municipality has issued 51 short-term rental licences to date.

Most of the licences issued have been annual in nature. This included 19 yearly licences for renting out a room, 14 annual licences for an entire dwelling unit, such as a house, and 14 annual licences for a non-principal residence, such a secondary suite or laneway house.

Annual licences tend to cost between $300 on the low end — for renting out a room — and up to $3,000 at their most expensive, which involves renting out non-principal residences. These non-principal rentals were obtained via the application program.

There have been only four monthly licences issued for an entire dwelling unit. Those licences cost $150 apiece.

Enforcement on these new regulations started in April 2021.

Since then, there have been 75 properties flagged for enforcement and 51 warning letters sent.

Forty three properties have come into compliance, but 11 properties were issued fines.

So far, there haven’t been any cases that necessitated prosecution or legal orders.

Nine business licences have been audited.