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Orillia decides not to licence Airbnbs, short-term rentals

'It's not a major issue in our community,' said Coun. Ted Emond; Staff noted there were 'isolated' complaints about eight properties in last 2.5 years
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Orillia will not be licensing short-term rental properties any time soon.

On Monday, council committee agreed to stick with the status quo, opting not to move toward a licensing regime. The decision has to be ratified at Thursday’s city council meeting.

Last summer, council asked city staff to explore how other municipalities are dealing with short-term property rentals such as Airbnbs and to recommend options for regulating such properties within the city.

Shawn Crawford, the city’s manager of legislative services, presented a comprehensive report to city councillors Monday.

As a result of the research - that included Orillia-specific information and an overview of other municipalities - Crawford said there was no reason to do anything.

According to his report, “there have only been isolated complaints related to eight properties” over the last 30 months.

Crawford said “we’re not hearing a lot of issues associated with short-term property rentals in the city. In fact, they are few and far between.”

He also noted “there are a number of tools in the existing tool box to address issues associated with short-term rentals.” He cited the city’s noise bylaw and open-air burning bylaw as legislation the city can use to combat most problems related to short-term rental properties.

Crawford conceded some municipalities, such as the Town of Blue Mountains, have experienced “significant issues” and have “gone so far as to implement comprehensive zoning and licensing restrictions.”

But, he stressed, “we’re not hearing those issues here in the city.”

Some councillors fear problems, however, are on the horizon.

Coun. Jay Fallis tried, unsuccessfully, to win support from his colleagues to have staff prepare a “long-term feasibility” study focused on implementing a licensing system.

It was an idea that Coun. Ralph Cipolla felt had merit. He said a neighbouring municipality is one of many currently grappling with the issue.

“Oro-Medonte has had some serious problems” with short-term rentals, noted Cipolla. “I think it’s coming.”

He said he has “serious concerns” about safety. He said licensing the properties would ensure, for example, that the fire department would inspect the properties and ensure they are safe.

“To me, it’s a safety issue … I think it’s really important we do licence them, so we know where these units are (and to) make sure the fire department is there to look at them to ensure they are safe to inhabit and protect people using them," said Cipolla.

Crawford warned there would be costs associated with “implementing a licensing regime.”

He said the city would have to engage legal counsel because several municipal licensing regimens are currently being challenged in court.

He also said the city would have to hire an additional part-time bylaw enforcement employee and would have to pay an annual fee of about $3,000 to a monitoring company that tracks short-term rentals.

Coun. Ted Emond argued against the licensing idea, saying “it’s not a major issue in our community.”

Crawford’s report bears that out.

In May of this year, a monitoring company identified approximately 50 short-term rental properties in Orillia; the findings were based on a survey of more than 60 Internet-based sites that included Airbnb, HomeAway, Flipkey and VRBO. That is about 20% of the number of similar properties in the Town of Blue Mountains.

Emond also cited the low number of complaints.

“I am not a strong advocate for regulation if we don’t need regulation,” he said.

Like others, he suggested if the problem “migrates” to Orillia, council could re-visit the issue.

Staff suggested it could likely have a licensing system in place within three months if required due to changing circumstances.

Coun. David Campbell said: “I don’t think we have an issue."

However, he was concerned about there being “a level playing field”, and wondered if the city’s proposed accommodation tax could be levied to short-term rentals if they are not licenced.

Staff noted Barrie has an accommodation tax and doesn’t license short-term rentals. However, it brokered an arrangement with Airbnb, which represents about 75% of the market, so that renters pay the same accommodation tax as those who check in to local hotels, motels and inns.

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Dave Dawson

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