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South Bruce Peninsula to licence, regulate short-term rentals starting Jan. 1

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South Bruce Peninsula now has all the policies in place to launch a program to licence and regulate short-term rentals in the town.

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Mayor Janice Jackson said the plan is to begin the program Jan. 1, which is also when the town intends to introduce a new four per cent tax for all short-term accommodations.

She said the short-term rental accommodations program – which affects only residential dwellings and not motels, bed & breakfasts, campgrounds or cottage-rental companies that pay commercial taxes – is being implemented as the town continues to see both a “dramatic increase” in the number of cottages being purchased as income properties and a rise in complaints related to the behaviour of people staying at short-term accommodations, particularly those owned by absentee landlords.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said of the program.

“We have increasing complaints and we really need to do something about it. We need to take a stand and welcome our visitors, but make sure that they understand that they can’t disrupt our community. We love having our visitors here, but they all need to behave.”

Most renters do, she said, and the town also has many great short-term rental property owners. But the bylaw is aimed at addressing problem areas.

For example, it will ensure the town has, among other things, updated contact information for the owner or their agent so they can respond to and address any issues in a timely manner, she said.

“We’re getting an increasing number of income property purchases where the owners are nowhere to be found and when there are issues that are happening, nobody knows who to call or they don’t bother addressing issues that arise. Those are the problems and this should resolve those issues,” she said.

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Property owners offering their cottages and homes for short-term stays is a long-standing practice in South Bruce Peninsula, Jackson said.

Town officials suspect there are now “well over” 1,000 non-commercial, short-term accommodations (STAs) in the municipality.

The popular vacation rental website Airbnb shows STAs in multiple locations in South Bruce Peninsula, including dozens within walking distance to the Sauble Beach shoreline alone.

For the past 14 months, council has been exploring options to regulate STAs, defined as the commercial use of a residential dwelling that can be rented for up to 30 consecutive days.

As an initial step, the town amended its zoning bylaw to recognize STAs as a “use.”

Council passed a bylaw in March to implement a municipal accommodation tax, which includes STAs.

At its meeting Tuesday, council approved a bylaw to licence and regulate short-term rental accommodations as well as a licencing package, which includes the information and forms required for applying for an STA licence.

“The bylaw basically lays out the program, how it’s going to operate, how you register your property, the cost of doing that and the penalties if you break the rules,” Jackson said.

Council also voted to authorize staff to prepare an agreement with LTAS Technologies Inc. to administer, via the Canadian company’s Harmari STR software, the town’s short-term rental program for one year, with an option to renew the contract for two additional years.

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Town CAO Bill Jones, in a report to council, said Harmari STR will handle nearly all aspects of the STA program, requiring the town to have only one contract position to assist with licencing reviews.

STA providers will use the software to register their properties and pay licencing fees. The software helps the municipality to track and locate unregistered STAs by monitoring 80 rental websites, like Airbnb, VRBO and Booking.com, as well as local and regional sites, Jones’ report says.

Harmari STR operates a 24/7 “nuisance hotline,” which receives, documents and notifies the property owner or manager of any complaints, the report says. The company will contact the town’s bylaw enforcement department if the issue is not resolved within a specified time.

The cost of the Harmari STR service is $25,000, which will be covered by STA licencing fees, Jackson said.

“There will be no burden on our taxpayers at all,” she said.

The licence fee per STA is $500 annually. The first-year fee is $1,000, as it covers administration costs for the application review.

The bylaw includes provisions related to the number of permitted occupants, parking and insurance, fire safety, inspection and enforcement.

It also approves and includes a renter’s code of conduct, which, among other things, bans parties and functions at STAs and contains rules related to noise, parking and garbage.

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