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STRs necessary to afford both Tiny Township cottage, downtown Toronto home, council hears

Councillor says he understands property owners might rent out properties to help pay taxes, but, 'if you have to rent your place out for six months or more to do that, maybe you're in the wrong business. Maybe you shouldn't be trying to own something you can't afford'

Half a dozen self-proclaimed "responsible" short-term rental (STR) owners made their pitches to council about its proposed licensing bylaw.

The six presenters put up a united front using the open deputation time to approach council with the suggestion of forming a task force of staff and STR owners to put together a licensing bylaw.

First up was Kelly Wagner, who said she and her family had a long tradition of renting cottages in Tiny, until last year when they'd been able to find a cottage to buy.

"We felt it was a perfect little place for us to secure a permanent place in Tiny that was affordable for us," she said, immediately seeming to contradict the affordability factor by adding, "The reality is we wouldn't be able to afford this cottage on Karen Road if we weren't allowed to rent it out."

Wagner, who rents out her property from July through to Labour Day, for seven days at a time, or four or three days during the off-season, said that as a "responsible" STR owner, she makes sure all her guests are vetted and are aware of the slew of rules she shares with them and also posts at the property.

"I'd ask to be part of the committee that's responsible for establishing the rules," she said. "Hopefully, in partnership, we will be able to draft some licensing that will help us enjoy the community."

She was followed by another newcomer to Tiny Township, Yelena Vuckovic.

"We moved from Toronto to Balm Beach in August last year," she said, introducing herself. "We have more than 10 years of experience doing long- and short-term rentals."

Like her predecessor, Vuckovic also said she's a "responsible" owner who thoroughly vetted her guests and wasn't in favour of the rushed process council had adopted to create a licensing bylaw.

"Working in the legal profession for the past 15 years, I've never come across any regulation that was put together and implemented in such a short time without proper consultation with all parties involved that managed to effectively and successfully reach its goal," she said.

Vuckovic said many people make bookings well in advance and if new regulations come into effect for this season, they may be reluctant to register in an attempt to avoid incurring cancellation fees.

Then came long-time Tiny resident Kim Romans, who took offence to being subjected to "dehumanizing" terms used in the survey, such as "an operator, as an absent money-grabbing investor, and someone who is turning Tiny into a Motel 6."

"I'm a responsible owner who hosts visitors to the area," she said. "I've never had a complaint from my neighbours. I know all of them."

Romans said she has specific policies and requirements that guests must adhere and agree to before they arrive, adding she would also like to be part of the working group of STR owners.

Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma commented that her situation may be different than how the bylaw is defining STRs, since she lives on the property while renting it out.

Queens University law professor Sharry Aiken also joined the conversation to impress on council how difficult it was for her and her University of Windsor sociology professor husband to afford a downtown Toronto property, as well as a Tiny Township cottage.

"Despite the fact that we have two very healthy secure jobs with good incomes, we would never be able to afford that cottage that we love and hope to retire in some day if it weren't for the ability to rent it on a short-term basis," she said.

Aiken agreed that noise is an issue for everyone, but she added, that it's not unique in the STR context.

"The biggest noise problem from our little strip on Ossossane Beach is from a homeowner that doesn't rent his place," she said, "but lets his grandkids come on the long weekends every summer. Typically, they host crazy wild parties on the beach two weekends a year."

Aiken also added she's in favour of a licensing bylaw but only one produced by engaging the host community.

Realtor Rob Heming agreed that a coordinated approach between town staff and local, responsible STR owners and those in his business would be best.

"What will reduce the issue is a zero-tolerance enforcement policy of existing bylaws," he added.

A Niagara Region ER physician, Oliver Shaw, saw his STR as a crucial part of the local economy.

"AirBnB rentals for us has been an affordable way for us to support the upkeep," he said. "It's our responsibility as a cottage owner to support the local infrastructure. It's the STRs that actually go into Midland and surrounding towns and explore small-town life. We, as cottage owners, also employ numerous local companies. We also work with local small businesses in the area to encourage local shopping in the area. 

"STRs are what contribute more significantly to the life and livelihood of small towns in Ontario, especially during the summer months," added Shaw.

Council listened very calmly to the 40-minute long session before deciding they'd beaten about the bush long enough and would like to proceed with staff bringing forward a bylaw, renter's code of conduct and possible stricter enforcement options at the next meeting.

"We've been told we don't have enough public consultation, my sense is we're more like a dog chasing its tail in some regards," said Coun. Tony Mintoff. 

"I'd like to get to the brass tacks here," he added. "The people that have talked to us that are concerned about licensing are people who seem to be responsible operators. I would suggest the first round apply to properties renting less than seven days. It's the weekend warriors that are causing the problems. If it doesn't deal with the problem sufficiently, we can expand it later."

Mintoff said he understood property owners might rent out their property to help pay taxes.

"I buy that; I get that," he said. "I have no problem with that. But if you have to rent your place out for six months of the year or more to do that, maybe you're in the wrong business. Maybe shouldn't be trying to own something you can't afford."

However, all were also in favour of forming a task force, as suggested by the aforementioned "responsible" STR owners, so they could help flesh out the details of the two pieces of document that will be brought forward at a meeting next month.

"If I can perhaps help dial down the anxiety of responsible property owners," said Mintoff, "it's our intention to adopt into the program many of the things that these people have already implemented into their properties. I don't want them to feel that everybody that has an STR is a bad operator, what we're trying to do is recognize the best practices they employ and build those into a program we can apply. 

"This is not a witch hunt for anybody operating an STR," he added. "We're trying to put in a program that will ensure that all other operators will emulate best practices by the responsible owners."

Some changes the elected officials recommended were around the definition of STRs being revised to say that the property is an STR if it is renting for less than seven consecutive days and for a total of 90 days a year. Another factor added by Walma's reminder was the exemption of those who live on the property while renting.

He also wanted to have a clearer definition of the kinds of inspection that would be required.

Fire chief Dave Flewelling said from a fire perspective, there would need to be a residential inspection for these properties.

Shawn Persaud, director of planning, said his department could look at how many bedrooms are advertized and tally it with the building plans on file. That would help take care of the septage side of things, he added.

From an insurance perspective, Steve Harvey, chief municipal bylaw enforcement officer, said property owners would be required to submit documents indicating they're covered for renting.

Committee of the whole passed the recommendation, which was approved at the council meeting later the same day.


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Mehreen Shahid

About the Author: Mehreen Shahid

Mehreen Shahid covers municipal issues in Cambridge
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