Debra Sheets stands in front of The Janion on Pandora Avenue, where she owns a short-term rental unit. News file photo

Short-term rental market up for changes April 1 in Victoria

Bylaw amendments hike fees, require homeowner’s presence

The City of Victoria continues to narrow the short-term rental market.

After a public hearing, council approved zoning regulation bylaw amendments to require a homeowner’s presence at their rental property and the Short Term Rental Regulation Bylaw, which provides the regulations and licence fees under which these businesses can operate. Under the new rules, which take effect April 1, owners may rent up to two rooms and not their entire space, but may rent their entire space if their principal residence is vacant for periods of time.

License fees to rent space on a short-term basis will cost homeowners between $150 and $1,500 a year. Multiple existing licensees who spoke argued that the proposed fee increases they face – in one case up to 12 times as much – seemed punitive. Some commented that the new fee structure did not fairly represent the size of their space compared to the fees charged and space occupied by hotels.

City staff explained that the fee increases are intended to seek cost recovery for monitoring the industry, which has mushroomed in recent years. Coun. Ben Isitt, who during the meeting argued passionately for the regulations as a way to better regulate “ghost hotels” in local buildings, pointed out that the proposed fee for full-time absentee operators had been reduced from $2,500 to $1,500.

Debra Sheets, a licensee who rents out a unit she owns in downtown Victoria, later told the News, “It’s hard on people who are trying to prepare for their retirement. We (landlords) are not all trying to make huge money through multiple places. I have one space, and that’s my retirement income,” she said.

Short-term rentals provide a “unique” service different from hotels, she added. “A person from Salt Spring coming to Victoria for cancer treatment may not want or can afford a hotel, and would prefer something more home-life and comfortable.”

Sheets said of council’s decision to approve the new rules and fees, “It’s very funny when you’re planning and the rules changed.”

Blake McKenzie with the Greater Victoria Short-Term Rental Alliance, which represents a group of owners, said no two STR operators are the same.

“Some are being greedy, but others have worked hard all of their lives and buy a home with the intention to live there in a few years full-time,” he said. “The latter is the kind of people we represent.”

Coun. Jeremy Loveday, who seconded Isitt’s motion to approve the new regulations and fee structure, acknowledged during the meeting that STR’s are not the sole cause of the housing crisis.

In an interview, he said the new rules are “fair and will have a positive impact for the City as a whole.”

“The biggest issue our City faces is access to adequate and affordable housing. The fact is, there are hundreds of units that could otherwise house people [on a longer-term basis] that are being used for short-term vacation rentals,” he said.

Regulating the short-term rental market is not a uniquely Victoria challenge but a widespread issue, Loveday added.

Under the new rules, fines between $100 and $10,000 will be issued for bylaw infringements.

anna.james@vicnews.com

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