OPINION: Short-term rentals?

During a recent Squamish council committee of the whole meeting, councillors voted unanimously in favour of instructing staff to start preparing a bylaw to protect our long-term rental housing supply by limiting short-term rentals to primary residences and restricting them from secondary suites.

As much as that strategy sounds appealing, on further review, it fails the smell test.

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Under recent provincial legislation, B.C. municipalities have been given the authority to preserve and increase the overall rental supply using local discretion.

As a result, landlords are becoming the low hanging fruit in the scramble for solutions to the ongoing affordable rental housing shortage. Tenant advocacy groups and activists are well organized, outspoken and media savvy. They also have the full attention of a tenant-friendly NDP/Green coalition that holds provincial power with a specific social engineering agenda.

Similar to other sectors, rental property owners should have the right to position their assets for maximum commercial advantage. In its current form, the business case in Squamish is compelling for short-term rentals relative to long-term leases with rent increases restricted by the provincial government to 2.5 percent annually.

Accusing owners of being greedy fails to take into account the considerable time and financial resources they have invested to purchase and maintain their properties. To be sure, watching frustrated residents leave town because they can’t secure reasonably priced rental housing is disheartening, but the affordable accommodation shortage did not surface suddenly overnight.

It is rooted in prolonged neglect and dithering by all three levels of government.                                                                                                   

The District has gone out of its way to brand Squamish as a tourist destination and the world has responded.  At the same time as that strategy is paying off in spades for retailers and service providers, some owners in the short-term rental housing sector could soon be barred from capitalizing on the windfall.

What we see at the moment is just the tip of the tourism iceberg. The Garibaldi at Squamish four-season resort could have spades in the ground in the not too distant future. As well, the Granville Island-themed Newport Beach development is waiting in the wings.

So, in all likelihood demand for two and three-night accommodations will soon increase exponentially.

And let’s not forget, the cost of administering the prohibition on short-term rentals in secondary suites will fall into the District’s lap.

The enforcement process could morph into a protracted cat and mouse scenario similar to the war on drugs.

At the moment, even though most short-term rentals are unauthorized, the practice continues to fly under the radar. Between May 2018 and May 2019 the number of short-term rental operations in Squamish grew from an estimated 380 units to just over 500. If there were any concerns about the growth of this rogue sector, action should have been taken by the District to reel it in long before it became so well established.

Everything considered, instead of resorting to the knee-jerk exclusion of secondary suites from the short-term rental market, municipal officials should consider other less divisive strategies to protect and expand our rental housing pool.

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