Saanich council has asked staff to investigate the effects of short-term rentals, with an eye towards regulating them. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Saanich considers regulating short term rentals

Scholars have shown that short-term rentals have decreased housing affordability

The issue of short term rentals will be on the agenda next month when council holds its next strategic plan meeting.

Council asked staff to bring forward the issue after council considered a notice of motion from Coun. Colin Plant that staff investigate “options to regulate” short-term rental units in Saanich through the business licensing system.

Council had passed a similar motion in December 2017 and Monday’s referral motion to staff strengthens that previous motion.

While the nature of the motion prevented formal debate, Coun. Colin Plant had said earlier that he would like to see Saanich address this issue.

No universal definition exists, but short-term rentals generally describe rental accommodations that last for less than 30 days. They often take the forms of vacation rentals that allow home-owners to rent out parts of their homes through services like Airbnb and VRBO.

Monday’s vote means Saanich is playing catch-up with the City of Victoria, which recently regulated short-term rentals subject to various conditions under its short-term rental regulation bylaw. The provincial government also announced that Airbnb will start collecting provincial and municipal taxes on short-term rentals in B.C.

Saanich, in other words, is looking at an additional but so far indeterminable source of revenue as key statistics remain unavailable, starting with the number of short-term rentals in the community. A recent Internet search on Airbnb’s website revealed more than 300 advertised short-term rentals in the Greater Victoria region with many available in Downtown Victoria.

The legal status and social impact of short-term rentals have the subject of much controversy. Tourism operators consider them a serious threat to their business model, while advocates of affordable housing accuse them of strangling the supply of housing.

Scholars have shown that short-term rentals have decreased housing affordability, because they offer a quicker and higher rates of return.

A 2017 study by the University of McGill titled “Short-term cities” found Airbnb has removed as many as 13,700 housing units from rental markets in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. “In some areas this represents more than than two per cent of the total housing stock — number comparable to the rental vacancy rate in the three cities.”

The report also notes that short-term rentals “often operate in legal grey zones, able to avoid to existing accommodation regulations and taxes, and are now increasingly targeted with specific regulations.”

But short-term rentals can generate considerable economic activity. According to the University of McGill study, Airbnb hosts in Canada’s largest three metropolitan regions earned $430 million in revenue last year, an average of $5,300 per listing. Short-term rentals help many homeowners make ends meet, at least based on anecdotal evidence.

Monday was not the first occasion during which council considered the issue. Council considered the issue in December 2017, when it received a recommendation from Saanich’s planning, transportation, and economic development advisory committee. Its members noted among other points that Saanich lacks a policy that addresses what the committee calls the “growing short-term rental activity” in Saanich.

This recommendation prompted the initial referral to the strategic plan update, now seemingly strengthened.

Coun. Wergeland opposed the referral.

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