By Chad Ingram
Published Feb. 9 2017
During a Feb. 2 meeting Algonquin Highlands councillors discussed what if any action the township should be taking regarding the short-term rental of cottages within its borders.
While residents renting out their cottages is not a new practice it’s one that seems to be getting more common with websites such as Airbnb providing an easy online way for people to advertise their abodes.
“There have been a slowly increasing number of complaints across the board” said Reeve Carol Moffatt adding that issues include noise garbage and general uncertainty over who and how many people may show up a neighbour’s cottage for the weekend. “There’s a growing expectation for municipalities to quote unquote ‘do something.’”
Moffatt said the issue would be separating responsible landlords and renters from those who are not so responsible.
She pointed to a number of shows and publications all of which encourage the practice of renting out cottages.
“In my review not one of them talks about how to be a good landlord when you are renting” Moffatt said.
Algonquin Highlands’ zoning bylaw does allow for the short-term rentals of properties but the township also has bylaws governing nuisances such as the creation of unwanted noise.
“We do have limitations” Moffatt said. “We have bylaws. No one wants to put their name to a noise complaint.”
Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen said there are also environmental concerns and that members of the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners’ Associations were worried about what the effects on lakes might be from the over-taxing of lakeside septic systems by residents of over-crowded cottages.
Some municipalities have taken action on short-term rentals. The Town of Blue Mountains for example has a short-term accommodation licensing bylaw whereby those seeking to rent out their residences for periods of 30 consecutive days or less must apply for licences.
“It can be achieved” planner Sean O’Callaghan told councillors adding there had been challenges to that bylaw through the Ontario Municipal Board and that the town basically had a department dealing specifically with short-term rentals.
“The main issues are interpretation – who’s the renter and prove it is it the townships business and enforcement” Moffatt said adding that many people rent of their cottages without incident.
Moffatt also noted that the township has contributed to cottage rentals itself a number of years ago developing a “cottage kit” that included proper bags and instructions for renters regarding garbage and recycling.
“We’ve contributed in small way ourselves” she said.
Councillor Lisa Barry pointed out that it isn’t just renters who can be loud.
“There are some cottagers who come up and bring a multitude of people” Barry said. “It could be cottagers who live in another part of the world and spread the keys around.”
Councillor Brian Lynch told an anecdote where residents of the lake he lives on had called the police thinking they were complaining about renters and the noise-makers ended up being the owners of the cottage themselves.
“I think we should look into it” said Councillor Marlene Kyle. “I think it’s going to be more common as the years go by. I think the biggest concern is that everything about our economy relies on the health of our lakes.”
“I don’t think you can prohibit” Moffatt said. “I think that would be fool-hardy.”
Danielsen thought the key was “education and control” and councillors agreed that perhaps simply reminding residents to communicate with their neighbours might help improve the situation.
“This isn’t about being mean to people . . . it’s about being a good neighbour” Moffatt said. “There is no way that anything is going to be in place for the summer. This is a huge undertaking.”
Staff from Haliburton County’s four lower-tier townships will be meeting to discuss the issue and chief administrative officer Angie Bird said Highlands East may be looking at a licensing bylaw.