For awhile now, when I travel, I prefer to stay in vacation rental homes. Websites like VRBO, and now Airbnb, have exploded in popularity by connecting travellers with short-term rentals. The first time I took the chance, I was hooked on the authenticity, privacy and comfort rental cottages offer. They often provide extras like bikes or water toys or even a few tools in case something needs to be fixed. I noticed each was exceptionally well-cared-for and appointed. The owners took obvious pride in their rental property and all evidence suggested it endeared respect from the guests who stayed there.
Short-term vacation rentals may not be for everyone but are an attractive alternative for those who seek it. They also provide a natural buffer when traditional accommodation providers can’t meet demand. So what’s the problem?
On the Sunshine Coast, STVRs are being blamed for intensifying a shortage of affordable rental housing. As the story on page 5 explains, it’s not just the fault of STVRs — without them, there would still be a rental housing shortfall — but they are cited as contributing to a growing problem.
And it is a problem. Aside from the urgent fact that we all need a place to live, there’s an economic imperative to make it easier for prospective residents to move here. Right now, it’s all but impossible to find long-term rental property. So, like many other local governments, the SCRD is scratching their heads about what to do about it.
This past December, SCRD staff found 276 STVR units for rent in Pender Harbour and Egmont. Many, if not most, are illegal because the residential properties on which they sit are not zoned for short-term rental activity. The SCRD acknowledges that the enforcement of these bylaws would place a costly strain on resources. Many owners of STVR properties don’t even live in the community so neighbours are sometimes unsure how deal with unruly guests. And because they often provide fewer than "four units of accommodation," the owners of these properties are exempt from PST and Sunshine Coast Tourism’s two-per-cent "hotel tax." So, while they compete with traditional accommodation providers for bodies, they enjoy different rules.
It is an inflated grey area that can no longer be ignored. But if the motivation is to introduce a flood of long-term rental housing back on the market, there’s a very real possibility that a crackdown on STVRs won’t get us there. It’s expected most owners also want to enjoy their properties, so long-term renting may not be an option.
I rent a second dwelling on my property (long-term) and I can say the experience has made me unsympathetic to calls for landlords to shoulder the responsibility for this issue. And though I think most of us would prefer traditional neighbours, there have been very few official complaints about STVRs (see p. 6).
It’s a delicate problem without an obvious solution but, if you operate an STVR, you should expect a disruption to the status quo in the not too distant future.