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Short-term rental 'party houses' causing headaches in neighbouring township

Mayor, Oro-Medonte Good Neighbours Alliance hoping LPAT hearing upholds restrictions on rentals; 'These things are proliferating like crazy'
2021-05-05 Oro short term rental sign 2
The Oro-Medonte Good Neighbours Alliance has created lawn signs to draw attention to disruptive short-term rentals.

Diana Gerrard is hoping for a peaceful summer, but she’s worried that might not be the case after seeing a nearby short-term rental property listed on Airbnb.

The property on Stanley Avenue in Hawkestone was rented out for the first time last year, Gerrard said, adding it attracted parties of 10 or more almost every night of the week.

“They party like crazy and then they’re gone two days later, and then another group of people come in and do it again,” she said, adding the noise is too much to take.

Gerrard moved from Toronto to the Oro-Medonte community 20 years ago “to relax and have a nice time.”

“It’s a place where people can live in a semi-rural setting and enjoy that setting,” she said.

Oro-Medonte enacted a bylaw in 2020 that clarified an existing prohibition on commercial accommodation and an amendment that defined commercial accommodation as temporary accommodation of a dwelling unit of 28 or fewer days. Commercial operations are not permitted in areas of the township zoned residential. That includes Stanley Avenue.

As a result of that amendment, the Oro-Medonte Association for Responsible STRs filed an appeal with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT). A hearing date has not yet been set.

Gerrard is a member of the Oro-Medonte Good Neighbours Alliance, which was created in response to community concerns about disruptive short-term rentals. The group has been granted party status for the LPAT hearing.

Prior to the group’s formation, “we were sort of suffering in silence,” Gerrard said.

“If they have a problem, now they have a place to go and join,” she said, adding the group is starting a lawn sign campaign to raise awareness.

Gerrard and other members of the group have been frustrated with what they see as a lack of bylaw enforcement from the township. Oro-Medonte implemented an interim control bylaw that prohibits any new short-term rentals from operating anywhere in the township. It does not apply to short-term rentals that were operating prior to the interim control bylaw being put in place.

The Stanley Avenue property is not grandfathered into that bylaw, which is why Gerrard was upset when the township, she said, seemed “not interested in enforcing the bylaw.”

Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes said bylaw officers are investigating that operation and that “there is action taking place,” though he could not elaborate.

“We have had quite a struggle trying to enforce short-term rentals,” he said.

Sometimes, when bylaw officers responded to calls, they were told by those at the property that they weren’t renting, but instead were staying there free of charge.

The township hired Host Compliance, which monitors advertising of short-term rentals and regularly reports to the municipality.

“Our bylaw officers now know where they are,” Hughes said. “That allows for a component of enforcement we didn’t have before.”

Even if someone is found to be in violation of the bylaw, it’s often not an issue that can be resolved on the spot, he said, adding “there is a process” and it often includes court, which takes time, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when there’s a backlog of cases.

The issue has always been with “party houses,” Hughes said, not every property operating as a short-term rental.

Asked if he was confident the LPAT would uphold the township’s bylaw amendment, he said, “there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be.”

Aird and Berlis LLP is representing the township, and that firm has plenty of experience when it comes to short-term rentals, Hughes said. It’s the same firm that helped the township draft its existing policies, and it has never lost a case while representing the township in Hughes’s four terms as mayor, he said.

He is also “pleased that the community has come together to support the upholding of the bylaw” through the Oro-Medonte Good Neighbours Alliance.

Gerrard hopes the amendment is upheld. If it isn’t, she’ll be looking for a new home.

“I’ll move. I’ll have no interest in living here,” she said, adding there are other residents who feel the same.

“These things are proliferating like crazy,” she continued. “These short-term rentals do nothing for Oro. They don’t spend money here. They just come here and party.”

For more information about the Oro-Medonte Good Neighbours Alliance, check out its website.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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