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30 Squamish homeowners can set up a vacation rental in their secondary suites

Permit system will make exceptions to rules banning vacation rentals in secondary suites
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

After prohibiting people from hosting Airbnb-type rentals in secondary suites, the District is allowing 30 homeowners to become an exception to the rule.

On Jan. 12, council cast a divided 4-3 vote in favour of a new temporary use permit system that would allow a chosen few to host short-term rentals in secondary suites such as basements, laneways and carriage houses.

Councillors Jenna Stoner, Armand Hurford, John French and Eric Andersen were in favour of the new permit system.

Mayor Karen Elliott and councillors Doug Race and Chris Pettingill were opposed.

French said that it was necessary to get the motion approved promptly.

“If we were in the business world, our competitors would have passed us a long time ago,” said French, who agreed with his colleagues’ assessments that it was a balanced policy.

“It’s time for us to start learning and get going.”

In November, council adopted a set of bylaws that placed several restrictions on vacation rentals.

Under these rules, residents may only host short-term rentals in a unit where they live and spend the majority of their time.

It also imposes requirements to obtain a business licence, pay a licence fee, and comply with life safety requirements.

Finally, with the intent of preserving the long-term rental market in a town facing a housing affordability crisis, the District banned people from using secondary suites for vacation rentals.

However, the regulations faced heavy opposition from the town’s business and tourism community, even drawing a critical letter from Squamish’s former mayor Patricia Heintzman.

In light of the criticism, elected officials noted that COVID-19 has dealt a significant blow to the town’s economy, and council decided it might be best to soften the impact of the new rules.

“We did hear from members of our tourism community about the potential negative impacts and I think... the policy before us now strikes a fair balance and should result in having plentiful options available for people looking to come and stay and play in Squamish,” said Hurford.

As a result, politicians directed municipal staff to create a temporary use permit system that would grant 30 people the ability to use their secondary suites for short term rentals.

During their latest meeting, council debated the criteria for who would be awarded the 30 permits.

Municipal staff presented elected officials with a scoring system that would rate each potential host on a number of traits.

Those with the Top 30 highest scores would be granted the permits.

Factors that determine a prospective host’s score include parking, dwelling characteristics, input from neighbours, the amount of nearby short-term rentals and complaints, among other things.

Elliott said she agreed with the spirit of the policy but disagreed with the scoring system’s criteria.

“While I’m supportive of the overall direction, I’m not supportive of what we’ve got in front of us,” Elliott said.

Race said that it was too soon to start making changes to the short-term rental policy. He said the regulations governing vacation rentals should be in effect for a year before council starts tinkering with it.

This would allow officials to learn from experience and make smarter decisions down the road, he said, adding that making changes with this permit policy is altering the regulations too soon.