Most on Squamish council support more restrictive regulation of Airbnb-style rentals.
Unlike many items on a typical council agenda, there was a sizeable audience sitting in council chambers for this topic when it came up at the meeting on March 10.
Last year, elected officials were given the option of selecting either a very permissive, moderately permissive, or restrictive approach to regulating short-term rentals in town.
They selected the latter approach, dubbed Option C.
Under this proposal, residents may rent a short-term residential unit, so long as they live there and obtain a $200 business licence. They would also not be allowed to offer up a vacation home, investment property or second home for Airbnb-type rentals
They would have to meet safety and good neighbour requirements. There’d also be a ban on short-term rentals for secondary suites or coach houses.
Director of planning Jonas Velaniskis said this is because those units are desirable for the upholding the long-term rental market, which is a major goal of this proposed bylaw.
Planner Aja Philp also said it’s in keeping with a cautious step-by-step approach — it’s always possible to restrict, then let those units become short-term rentals in future bylaw amendments. However, if they are allowed right off the bat, there’s no taking it back.
Staff said there may be potential for 100 units to become long-term rentals, as there are about 100 units listed on Airbnb as guest suites. However, it’s difficult to gather data on whether landlords would want to convert them to long-term rentals, they said.
Council provided suggestions for the next draft of the bylaw, voting 5-1 in favour of asking staff to start drafting a bylaw for formal readings based on their comments. Coun. Chris Pettingill was the sole dissenting vote. Coun. Doug Race was absent.
Mayor Karen Elliott wanted the business licence fees to cover the cost of monitoring and enforcement. They’re too low at present, she said.
An extra $84,000 bylaw enforcement officer — though half the employee’s time would go to solid waste enforcement — is required and another $16,000 may be needed for a third-party service to monitor short-term rental listings.
Elliott also said that since the bylaw is expected to be passed in Spring 2020, there needs to be a grace period so that this year’s high season isn’t upended. Likely, bookings have already been made, she said.
A sudden ban on Airbnb-type rentals during the summer would hurt tourism and send the wrong message to the world, she said.
Elliott also emphasized the need for incentives to join the long-term rental market. She noted that before the cancelling of the rural dividend fund, there was talk of having a service that would match landlords with workers.
She also asked staff to consider differentiating short-term rental regulations depending on geography. For example, rules could be laxer in locations like the Squamish Valley, which are away from areas of employment.
Pettingill went as far as saying he wasn’t in favour of Option C, as he wanted more flexibility.
Short-term rentals can help people pay off their mortgages and childcare, he said.
Though he was ultimately fine with a grace period, Coun. Armand Hurford spoke in favour of moving quickly on regulations.
He said he felt the decision on short-term rentals was getting pushed further down the road, which could be a problem given the housing crisis.
“If there needs to be a correction, it has to happen at some point and I feel like this is the time,” he said. “I’m starting to hear some cracks around the table here today.”
Coun. Jenna Stoner wondered what options there may be for a person who wants to start up a short-term bed and breakfast commercial operation and where that could fit in.
“It is a lot of work to turn over an Airbnb or a short-term rental, and people who are doing that for a living should have some mechanism to do that,” she said.