Squamish council is leaning towards the most restrictive option when it comes to regulating short-term, or Airbnb-style, rentals in town — but with caveats.
Earlier this year, the municipality’s staff offered council three different choices to regulate short-term rentals. Option A was permissive, B was moderate, and C imposed the most restrictions on Airbnb-style rentals. They previously presented these options to the public and council to gather feedback.
At the meeting June 11, councillors voted unanimously in favour of instructing staff to start preparing a bylaw based on Option C. Staff will then present it to council for further deliberation and possible change at a later date.
Staff had recommended this choice to councillors before they cast their votes.
“Option C is best positioned to protect our long-term rental housing supply, as it restricts the short-term rentals to primary residents only,” said District planner Aja Philp.
Philp said that staff estimates suggest there are currently about 500 units in town being used for short-term rentals. About 133 units — which includes all types, such as single family dwellings — could be available for long-term rental, she said.
“Even if a small percentage of these rental units were put toward the long-term rental supply, it could have a positive impact,” Philp said.
The defining point of Option C is that short-term rental hosts wouldn’t be allowed to rent out secondary suites or coach houses.
In addition, hosts wouldn’t be allowed to rent out investment properties — that is, homes where they don’t live full-time, such as vacation houses. They must prove the property they’re renting is where they live.
Only one short-term rental may be done per property. A business licence and inspection will be required, and a maximum of 10 guests would be allowed.
If the host isn’t in the home when the guests are renting, no additional parking space will be needed, as they would presumably use the normal parking spot.
But if the host is still present, additional parking space must be made available.
While councillors unanimously supported this option, some were quick to point out concerns they had with it, and asked that those issues be resolved.
Mayor Karen Elliott was hesitant to fully support the chosen option, as she said that municipal staff did not make it clear what resources would be required for enforcement.
“I, myself, absolutely need a business case for the enforcement piece of this,” said Elliott.
“We don’t even know what you’re proposing in terms of what our licence fee would be, how would we pay for enforcement. I think we want to have a much clearer view on this, because I think my opinion would shift if you tell me that, you know, the licence fees wouldn’t cover the costs of enforcement, and I suddenly have to put aside a whole person at budget when I’ve got other priorities that I want to take care of.”
She also proposed that the District create training measures for landlords to help them transition into the long-term rental market.
There was one councillor who seemed particularly supportive of Option C.
“I have very little sympathy, I’m afraid, for the people that are in the short-term rental market because it’s been prohibited — it’s never been allowed,” said Coun. Doug Race.
“And they knew or should have known they were breaking the law.”
Race said secondary suites and coach houses were allowed by the District for the purpose of boosting long-term rental stock for locals, and the District should bring them back into that market.
“Otherwise, I think we’re just kidding ourselves,” he said.
With respect to enforcement, Race took a different opinion than Elliott.
“I think we’re going to have to be serious about enforcement, and, with respect to the mayor, there’s never a business case around this — it just won’t exist,” he said.
“But I think if we put money aside in the budget and choose carefully with some offenders, word will get out.”
Coun. Chris Pettingill said that he was concerned that only 133 units of the 500 would be transferred to long-term rental.
“Which leaves 370 units who-knows-where,” he said.
He said that he hoped there’d be measures in place so those units wouldn’t just disappear.
Coun. Armand Hurford expressed worry that some people relying on short-term rentals to pay off their mortgages would be hurt. “I’m really concerned,” said Hurford. “People are stretched, and it is a way that people have been able to move through sort of that housing spectrum.”
There were 10 letters written by locals that were presented to council at the meeting before the decision was made. Nine of them said they were against Option C., with some arguing restricting vacation rentals wouldn’t help the long-term housing market.