While the Village of Harrison Hot Springs revisits local zoning regulations to figure out the details of a recently announced crack down on short-term vacation rentals, some residents are left wondering how their businesses will emerge after last week’s statement.
Village staff made it clear there is no change in the bylaws, but rather a new commitment to the enforcement of existing rules that prevent commercial activities in residential zones.
“I understand that Harrison is trying to gain control over the amount of vacation rentals that have been popping up,” said Trisha Feenstra, owner of The Front Porch in response to last week’s announcement. “I do find it very unfair that those who have been trying to follow the rules and regulations are being shut down also.”
She’s referring to her own correspondence with the Village when starting her rental. The office said Feenstra needed a license, so she acquired one. But staff said she did not have to pay a hotel tax because she had fewer than four rental suites.
“I would not be against paying an extra tax if it meant I was able to keep running my business,” she added.
The current iteration of the zoning bylaw states that home operations require a license, including bed and breakfasts (though they are a category of their own). It does not include language specific to short-term rentals.
Feenstra uses her home as a seasonal rental, making it available to guests in the summer then living there herself in the winter.
She said it helps her pay the mortgage and makes owning a home more affordable.
According to staff, a main driving force for the Village to review and enforce their bylaws was the amount of complaints from residents about noise and activity from short-term vacation rentals.
But in Feenstra’s case at least, she said her neighbours have been supportive of her business so far.
Another owner who rents through Airbnb in Harrison Hot Springs is also against the decision.
“It makes no sense whatsoever for a small town, with such beauty, that revolves around the tourist industry, to try and crack down on any rentals, both short or long term,” wrote the homeowner, who asked to remain anonymous. “The more people [who] are able to experience Harrison, the better off Harrison will be in the future, it makes no sense whatsoever and I strongly disagree with any type of ban or crack down!”
According to comments from a Village-run June survey with 112 respondents (of which 71 commented), 18 per cent were in favour of short-term rentals, 34 per cent were against the practice and a quarter felt “enforcement or regulation… needs to occur in some form.”
With such small sample size, there’s an 11 per cent margin of error, so a true representation of public opinion is unknown.
Meanwhile, Feenstra and her sharing economy cohort exist somewhere between bed and breakfasts and home operations, providing a niche product hotels and motels can’t offer.
“I welcome a lot of families into my home during the summer months,” she said. “They comment that it is much more convenient to have a home to stay in rather then renting multiple hotel rooms.”
Feenstra has been in contact with the Village office and is waiting to hear back.
Though staff can’t comment on specifics until the review is finished, the Village expects enforcement to go into effect sometime this fall.