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Short-term rental owner association calls on city to reconsider ‘beefing’ up enforcement

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
October 2nd, 2016

A member of the city’s short term rental association is asking city council to delay its planned strong-arm enforcement of new rules and regulations for the industry and instead earmark an expected revenue windfall for long-term housing.

Stephen Harris of the Nelson Short-Term Rental Owner Association is calling upon city council to think about what it is going to do with the revenue that is going to come in from the annual $800 short-term rental business licences once it is collected.

The revenue the city will receive from around 120 short-term rental owners — almost $100,000 — has been suggested for increasing enforcement, said Harris. The city expects to need to “beef up” and perhaps modify the enforcement process.

But the revenue is essentially windfall money, it is not budgeted, it is not expected and the city is not losing anything because it has not been collecting it in the past, Harris pointed out.

“I would strongly urge council to think about at least taking that first year to let this be a voluntary process,” he said, and not put the money into enforcement.

It was Harris who made the recommendation for the $800 per year licence fee that was recommended in the draft legislation that still sits before council.

“The city does not need to have an enforcement officer, who costs a lot of money, to shake that money out of me,” said Harris. “I’m willing to pay that. And all of my colleagues want to pay that.”

The drafting of short-term rental market legislation has been an industry-led process, said Harris. If the industry had sat back the easy default position for the city would have been to pass a bylaw to ban it and hope for the best.

“But industry came together and we said ‘We want to pay our fair share,’” said Harris. “The industry and the operators in town want to be participating in what’s going on out there.”

Harris suggested the money goes toward the discretionary budget for the city — which doles out money for requests from city groups — or to incentivize the long-term rental housing market (such as waiving development cost charges).

“Before we leap right into committing even more taxpayer dollars into enforcement that may not really be necessary, take a look at what you really would like to get done,” Harris said.

The Nelson Short-Term Rental Owner Association was formed in the summer in response to the city’s consultation around short-term rentals. The recommendations that city staff drew up were close to what the association wanted to see in place, said Harris.

He commended the city for taking a positive approach to the situation, rather than trying to hold back the tides.

Harris also asked council to clarify the difference between operating year round or operating a summer rental only. The association preferred seasonal rental as opposed to summer rental.

“Don’t forget, we have as much winter tourism as we do summer tourism,” he said. “Be cautious in the wording of that bylaw.”

The association’s recommendations will go forward for discussion and consideration during the next business meeting of council next week.

On the short-term track

Next week city council will delve back into the short-term rental legislation, with further readings of a draft bylaw back on the table for debate and possible further refinement.

For over two months in the summer the city had employed a researcher in development services for the sole purpose of examining the gap between city policies and the short-term rental (STR) market.

With an estimated 120 listings in the short-term realm — and up to 40 of them quite active — the majority of them were considered illegal by virtue of the fact they lacked a business licence and were not in compliance with zoning.

The city stance was it was not necessary to shut down the market, even though many people did not want short-term rentals. City staff recommendations for legislation have found ways to mitigate those negative concerns and create a level playing field for all accommodators in Nelson.

When approved, the proposed amendments should establish a regulatory and licensing framework for the purpose of creating a level playing field for accommodation providers in the city, as well as minimize potential conflicts between the accommodation providers, neighbours and the city.

Council has approved the bylaw amendments — Business Licence, Zoning and Off-Street Parking Landscape bylaws and the Official Community Plan — for first readings with a full legal review.

As well, council approved the draft Bylaw Enforcement Guiding Policy and the policy would be presented for adoption along with the other bylaws, possibly next week.

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