Airbnb and other vacation rental websites connect visitors directly with anyone who has space to share, empowering people and creating business opportunities, but disrupting incumbent businesses in the process.

Village says ‘no’ to short term vacation rentals

Staff directed to ‘crack down on illegal commercial activities in residential zones’

Harrison Hot Springs homeowners are no longer allowed to rent their homes to short-term visitors to the community, but legal Bed and Breakfast (B&B) operations will continue as usual.

That means no more stays from Airbnb, VRBO and other online facilitators of the shared economy in residential areas.

Council decided to “uphold [Harrison’s] current zoning regulations, and crack down on illegal commercial activities in residential zones” at a regular council meeting earlier this month, according to a press release.

Just as Uber and other ridesharing services have controversially disrupted incumbents in taxi and transport industries, the vacation rental networks pose a competitive threat to local hotels—but evade the same regulation.

VRBO and their ilk are “in direct competition with legally operating hotels, motels and inns, without paying commercial tax rates or collecting provincial sales taxes which include a three per cent hotel tax,” said the statement.

Those taxes fund local tourism marketing and help promote tourism throughout the province, according to Village staff.

After a July 10 presentation to the community’s mayor and council, the consensus was that noise and parking from such short-term arrangements would impact residents of Harrison Hot Springs, said the release.

“We heard from our residents, who are increasingly concerned about the impact of commercial operations in their neighbourhoods,” said Mayor Leo Facio. “We are also concerned about the tight rental housing market here in our community and want to ensure that families and workers can find affordable housing in our beautiful village.”

Participant in the semi-formal market are relatively few, with only around 25 showing up in the area on an Airbnb search.

In a survey offered to the community last month, a large majority (51 per cent) said that if short-term rentals were allowed they should also pay taxes akin to those invested by hotels, as opposed to 13 per cent who disagreed.

Almost 60 per cent of respondents say they have or someone they know has been impacted negatively by short-term rentals in the community.

A majority felt that parking regulations should be a factor in decision making.

Of the 112 who completed the survey, most were low density residential home-owners, with only seven per cent of respondents actually providing short-term vacation arrangements themselves.

A third of the 71 people who commented on their survey didn’t want short term accommodation in Harrison at all, with only 18 per cent in favour of an unregulated industry.

A quarter of those respondents who wrote additional notes said that it should be allowed, but regulation and enforcement must be in place.

As for Bed and Breakfast operations in Harrison Hot Springs, they must be located within a principal dwelling and are still bound to all of the existing terms and conditions of current village zoning regulations.

Looking elsewhere in the province, Harrison isn’t the only community reexamining its vacation rental rules.

Next week the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s newest bylaws regarding short-term rentals are set to take effect. Renters with property in neighbourhoods not zoned for such a setup and those in correct zones who don’t acquire a business license will face fines up to $1,000 a day.

Up the road from that ski destination, the Village of Pemberton is also revisiting similar bylaws. That municipality has held community engagement events all through July.

And according to a Globe and Mail article last month, Revelstoke is now requiring renters to rezone (causing neighbourly rifts), Tofino has amped up enforcement of the issue (using the rental website searches as an enforcer checklist) and other communities such as Kelowna, Penticton, Sun Peaks and Fernie are also making moves in the same direction.

The list of B.C. communities seeking short-term rental solutions is growing, but all the reasons—housing shortages, desired tax income from the properties, noise and parking parking problems—are staying the same.

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