Varying opinions were shared during a meeting Thursday regarding short-term rentals in Severn Township, but most agreed on one point: They should be regulated in some way.
More than 70 people registered to take part in the virtual public open house, which lasted two-and-a-half hours — an hour longer than planned — to accommodate everyone who wanted to speak.
Severn implemented an interim control bylaw in October 2019 that doesn’t allow short-term rentals except those that were established before October 2018. That bylaw is set to expire in January 2022.
The township has retained MHBC Planning to look at ways to address issues with short-term rentals.
“People have been renting homes and their cottages for decades, both formally and informally,” said Wes Crown, associate planner with MHBC.
The difference in more recent years, and what is causing the most concern among residents, is people operating short-term rental properties that aren’t their primary residences and they’re not on site while guests are there.
Short-term rentals aren’t going away, resident Asim Alam said, adding the township should find a way to “embrace this as much as possible” if they can be governed well.
Jim Avery shared a similar opinion, saying there should be some kind of regulation, “but we need to look at this in a positive light.”
Avery has had experience renting properties out of province and said almost all of the guests were respectful of the rules.
“I know I speak for a lot of short-term rental owners who take great pride in what they do,” he said.
Avery is an “ideal renter,” said John Cooper, of the Sparrow Lake Association.
“If we had all renters like that, it would be great,” he said.
Not everyone is as respectful of the community, however, and that’s why Cooper is in favour of licensing short-term rentals.
“There has to be some regulatory or punitive consequences with respect to folks who choose to ... behave in a fashion that is not at all appropriate for the folks who are in the neighbourhood,” he said.
Leslie Bruce also suggested Severn follow Ramara’s lead and license short-term rentals, while doing a “screening of owners” and implementing a complaints system.
Alan and Nancy Croft have been living a “nightmare” on Lakeside Drive next to a short-term rental property the township has deemed illegal, as it was established this summer.
When the Crofts introduced themselves to the new owner and informed him about the bylaw, “he replied, ‘I’m a millionaire. I have 20 other places. I can do whatever the hell I want,’” Nancy Croft said.
Despite the owner contravening the bylaw, the township has not charged him.
Crown said enforcing bylaws takes time and money and involves the court system.
“It’s not like a parking ticket. It’s not like a speeding ticket,” he said.
That led Ali Ebbert to question how the township could license short-term rentals if the interim control bylaw isn’t even being enforced.
“I really don’t understand what the township thinks they’re going to gain from this,” she said.
If property owners operate short-term rentals at properties that aren’t their permanent residences, they should be considered commercial operations, which are not allowed in residential zones, said Judith Ebbert.
“Why is it that people can come up and buy three, four, five or 20 places and rent them out to make money as a commercial entity?” she asked.
Joseph Dewar said he is “pro-rental” but there should be strict rules.
He wants to eventually rent his cottage when he’s not there.
“The last thing I ever want is someone into my cottage that’s going to destroy or wreck it or be destructive,” he said.
He supports a bylaw with rules and regulations and would like to see information sheets provided to renters, who should be fined if they violate the rules.
“I believe that, in order for me to enjoy my cottage, I need some supplementary income,” he said.
Sandra Pizzale rents her place, but only when she’s home.
“It’s not fair to categorize every short-term rental as a nightmare because I’ve never had any bad guests …” she said, adding she screens them first.
Differentiating between the various forms of short-term rentals will be something the township will have to take into consideration, as there are people like Pizzale who are responsible owners and rely on rentals for income.
Pizzale lost her business during the COVID-19 pandemic and renting is her only source of income at the moment.
“Don’t use a blanket to try and cover the whole township,” Tony Telford said, adding it should apply to problem areas.
If the township feels the need to create a new bylaw, “consider those who are renting to supplement their incomes” as opposed to people running it as a business, he said.
“We have to evolve and change. You can’t have it the way it was 10 years ago.”
Shoreline properties are popular spots for rentals, but they’re not the only ones.
Edwin Smart lives on a large property on Hampshire-Mills Line. In the summer, a “party house” opened next door.
“My daughter has to use earplugs to go to sleep at night when they’re partying,” he said.
“This is illegal and nothing has been done about it.”
Dave Shuker had a similar concern about a property near his along the Severn River. In the summer, he said, the owner indicated the property wouldn’t be sold to someone who planned to operate it as a short-term rental.
Not long after, a listing for the property stated, “Come kill your liver at the river.”
When disruptive rental properties are established next door, “you feel you lose your peace, your health and the value of your investment,” Shuker said.
As of Sept. 15, 173 people had responded to an online questionnaire regarding short-term rentals. Respondents were split on issues such as licensing, but there was general consensus about dictating where those operations should be permitted and that there should be a maximum number of weeks per year they are allowed to rent.
The questionnaire will remain open until Oct. 1 and can be found on the township website.
All of the feedback from those responses as well as Thursday’s open house will be considered in the MHBC report, Crown said.
Full results of the questionnaire will be included in a report to council in November.
If directed by council, there will be draft legislation, and possibly a public meeting, in December.
Final legislation could be in place in January.