By Sue Tiffin
The first of two surveys gathering feedback on short-term rentals in Haliburton County was “well received,” consultants told councillors last week at a May 25 council meeting, with more than 1,500 responses collected online over a three-week period in April.
Jason Ferrigan, Tori Ruck and Gursimran Saini, planners with J.L. Richards & Associates Limited, are the consultants tasked with undertaking a study of short-term rentals to inform county council of current information and best management practices and help guide potential future development short-term rental policies and regulations. The review was awarded to the consulting firm for $55,235 plus taxes and includes a literature review, precedent review, survey of community perspectives, and stakeholder consultations.
Ferrigan said the survey had an “astounding response,” and said the team had made, “good progress” in their efforts, and are currently in the “Understanding and Direction” phase of the review, which is intended to be complete this summer.
“We are still in the Understanding component of that, of the Understanding and Direction phase, still wrapping our heads and our arms if you will around the nature of both the issues and the opportunities that this sort of trend presents for Haliburton County,” he said.
A total of 1,547 responses were received to the first community survey, which was intended to gather information about respondents’ relationships with short-term rentals, and get initial perspective on positive or negative impacts on the community. Of those responses, 52 per cent were from Dysart et al, 20 per cent were from Algonquin Highlands, 17 per cent were from Minden Hills, 10 per cent were from Highlands East and one per cent of the responses were from those who don’t own in Haliburton County.
Seventy per cent of respondents were generally supportive of homes and cottages being used as short-term rentals, noting they provide additional revenue for property owners, create economic development and employment opportunities and increase tourism. Thirty per cent of respondents were not supportive of short-term rentals, with the top five concerns being loud noise and music, septic system capacity, fireworks use outside permitted dates, bonfires during fire bans, and enjoyment of one’s own property. The majority of respondents noted having concerns a few times a year.
Short-term rentals are not currently addressed in the county’s official plan, and policies have not resulted yet from the separate reviews conducted in prior years by each of the lower-tier municipalities.
The report from J.L Richards & Associates Limited notes both Haliburton County’s summer tourism population increase and effects on economy and waterfront development, and the increase in the short-term rental market with the emergence of rental platforms Airbnb and VRBO, and says, “As such, this puts Haliburton County in a unique position of balancing the advancements in the tourism industry with the need to create a regulatory framework to manage these new age vacation rentals.”
In a literature review, consultants reviewed studies related to short-term rentals across North America and Europe, many of those referring to Airbnb.
“Generally, the research indicates that full time, entire homes and multi-listings are the underlying cause of various issues associated with short-term rentals such as constriction of long term rental markets and competition to traditional hospitality industry,” reads the discussion of findings. “Further, Combs, Kerrigan and Wachsmuth (2019) conclude that short-term rentals are growing faster, concentrating faster, and removing housing from the long-term market faster in rural areas and Census Agglomerations than in Census Metropolitan Areas. This finding is important in context of the efforts to manage short-term rentals in Haliburton County, indicating foresight and a well rounded approach is necessary in all relevant policy decisions.”
A precedent review looked at a desktop review of nine municipalities with short-term rental regulation frameworks in place: Blue Mountains; Whistler; Huntsville; Niagara-on-the-Lake; Lake of Bays; Prince Edward County; Vancouver; Kingston and Brampton, that review to be supplemented with interviews later.
Among those municipalities, licensing application fees of $25 and up were common, while licence fees ranged from $190 for a guest unit, to two-year fees of $2,300. Regulation tools apart from fees and infraction fines included density, occupancy, parking, landscaping, amenity space, health and safety inspections, and other considerations, for example that weddings or other similar commercial activities not be permitted.
“Review of municipal regulations indicates that the best practices identified through the technical review of the literature have been adopted by various municipalities based on the local context,” reads the report’s summary of findings. “In addition to the above noted regulations, all municipalities contain general provisions in their relevant by-laws that require conformity of the units with other applicable regulations such as waste management by-laws, building code, fire code and noise by-law. Additionally, there is a requirement of site plan, floor plan, parking management plan and emergency exit plan, together with site inspections to get a STR licence in many municipalities. A responsible person who can respond to concern or complaints within a pre-determined amount of time is also a noted requirement in STR legislations.”
The report notes that Collingwood does not permit short-term rentals apart from bed and breakfast establishments, and the City of Toronto requires licensing on short-term rental operators as well as platforms such as Airbnb.
Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy said he thought the issues were more with short-term rentals that are on the lake as opposed to off-water short-term rentals, and said he didn’t personally believe that housing impacts brought up by the consultants were relevant to the issue of waterfront short-term rentals.
“If you’re going to rent your cottage, you’re going to want probably substantially more than the market will bear as far as year-round rentals,” he said. He said he appreciated the Lake of Bays and Huntsville comparators and preferred those to comparisons with Victoria and Banff, “that are unique situations on their own.”
Ferrigan said the consulting team had considered previous council direction to look at similar communities, as well as those further afield that have more tourism-based economies, but said he appreciated Kennedy’s feedback.
County Warden Liz Danielsen said she agreed with Kennedy on the impact of housing as it relates to the study, but said short-term rentals do have an impact on the availability of housing, which was something to keep in mind when councillors speak to the overall issue of housing.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said the report was a good start, and agreed with Kennedy that she was looking for comparators that were “communities like ours,” noting the work she knew had been done in Bracebridge and Trent Lakes and asked if they could be considered. She asked, of those communities that have policies in place, how many staff have been hired to oversee the implementation of the program and how those programs are working as some of the bylaws and processes are new.
“For now, the research is limited to the desktop review, compiling information, and I suspect that as we take the next stages we’ll be having more focused discussions … with some of those municipal precedents, in particular the ones that are more similar to Haliburton than others,” said Ferrigan, noting they would look into Bracebridge and Trent Lakes as well.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said the next level of analysis he would like to see are the findings in each year from municipalities that have regulations in place.
“I’m a great believer that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and I’m hoping in this tighter group of analysis that we can have some great copy and paste perspectives or outcomes we could have,” he said. “It seems clear to me that anybody who has done this, and has done this well to mitigate it, has rules and bylaws and fees. To me that’s the moot point, that’s a given, yes. We need to do it. Who does it the best and how does it have the least negative consequences, and not impose a financial burden on other taxpayers?”
Moffatt asked the consultants what the process would look like for next steps in discerning which options from the examples given would be provided to council, given that those shared in the report were similar in some ways and dissimilar in others.
Ferrigan said the consulting team would be doing further research, and would then map out all of the options available to be brought back to county council, considering too capacity and administration practices for staff.
“At the end of the day what we want to be able to recommend … is something that the county, should county council choose to, implement relatively quickly without a high degree of service training,” said Ferrigan.
Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall asked how commercial short-term rentals could be differentiated from casual house-sitting situations.
“I don’t want to see a bylaw that comes into play that’s going to restrict the average person from saying, my Uncle Burt and his three kids want to come out, or a good friend of mine that I have at work, as opposed to someone who advertises on the television,” said Ryall.
Ferrigan said he knew it was important to county council to differentiate between “casual short-term accommodation providers,” versus “commercial short-term rental accommodation providers,” and said other municipalities will be asked about their approaches and experiences, that information later coming back to council in a report.
Moffatt asked about the structure of the survey, and if it was possible to know if answers were connected to those who owned short-term accommodations.
“Is there any correlation that those who feel that their lifestyle of commercialized short-term rental could be jeopardized may have negatively influenced the survey outcome?” she asked, noting she’d had conversations with some people who were upset about the process in place given short-term rentals is how they make their living.
The consulting team said they would look into that.
Some of the examples of communities in the report had modified their zoning bylaws to allow rezoning of properties to allow for short-term rentals, and councillors asked if that might come back to them as a recommendation, noting it would not likely be popular. Ferrigan said the team would look further into the possibility of rezoning as a tool and might bring it to council as a recommendation but that it would be up to council to discuss the viability of that option.
Kennedy asked about interim control bylaw, as local realtors are promoting the purchase of cottages as partial or full income generators,
“It doesn’t affect current short-term rentals but it does put a halt on allowing any more, until such time as a municipality or the upper tier makes a decision or completes their research,” said Kennedy, asking if it’s something that might be considered. “I just feel sorry for someone that buys a cottage with the intent of renting it out, and then we say you’re not going to be able to do that … because we are considering it, but no one’s telling them, prospective purchasers.”
Ferrigan said interim control bylaws can be used by municipalities when they want to pause emerging land use issues in order to study them and make changes to land use documents, but he said he didn’t necessarily recommend it in this case, in part because though they are an effective tool, they can also cause a significant amount of controversy within the community of a perception that they are impeding private property rights.
The second round of community consultation will focus on the different ways of how to address the issues related to short-term rentals. The second phase of the project includes stakeholder interviews, a preparation of draft background and directions report and preparation of draft policies and regulations.
County director of planning Steve Stone said the next report to council will be “pivotal, in terms of where the study will go.” He said council will have to decide if they will take an educational approach or a more regulatory approach. The regulatory approach would require policy changes in all of the official plans, and definitions and regulations within zoning bylaws, or alternatively a licensing approach or combination of regulatory and licensing approach can be taken.
Haliburton County has seen a population growth of 13.9 per cent between 2016 to 2021. The county has a total of 21,072 private dwellings, out of which 9,714 – or 46 per cent – are occupied by ‘usual residents’ or what is commonly known as ‘permanent residents.’ Forty-four facilities have been identified as tourist accommodations, including bed and breakfasts, resorts, cottages, motels and campgrounds.