Airbnb-type properties in tourist hotspot a likely regulatory target

by Neil Sharma02 May 2018

Prince Edward County has born witness to a proliferation of vacation rental properties and the municipal government is planning a crackdown.

Treat Hull, the broker-owner of boutique real estate brokerage Treat Hull & Associates Ltd., and a municipal councillor, says council staff will have a report ready this summer delineating the regulations municipal government should implement.

“The million dollar question is how restrictive it will be, because at the least intrusive you have to get a license from the municipality, which would raise tax money and allow for the enforcement of standards,” he said. “Somewhat in the middle would be to require any Airbnb to have parking for all of its guests on site, and the strictest end of the spectrum would be exactly what Niagara Falls has done.”

Beginning in September, Niagara Falls will limit vacation rentals to its downtown and tourist areas, although a by-law governing short-term rentals in residential areas could be in the works.

While the incarnation of Prince Edward County’s regulation has yet to be determined, Hull says short-term rentals are the source of considerable disquiet among locals and all options are, therefore, on the table.

“There are several problems in the eyes of a lot of community members,” he said. “One is the potential for noise and rambunctious neighbours, and that’s been much highlighted, for example, in Toronto. Incidentally, this fall, municipalities hold elections across Ontario and I expect Airbnbs will be a highly visible issue in elections. Depending on the town and community, it could increase pressure for regulation.”

Between 2016 and 2017, the number of vacation rentals in Prince Edward County doubled, and now there’s one for every 75 residents, says Hull.

“We’re a community of 25,000 and we have over 700 Airbnbs”

Most of the vacation rental landlords are Torontonians capitalizing on the high prices their properties fetch. But as their frenzied buying continues in the county, Hull wonders how many are aware of forthcoming regulations.

The catalyst for imminent regulation is local residents concerned about the erosion of their community. But there’s also acknowledgement that tourism dollars are crucial to the county’s economy and that vacation rental properties fulfil a need.

“Growth of tourism in the county is limited by lack of roofed accommodation,” said Hull. “Not everybody wants to go on holiday for a week in a tent, so in that sense [vacation rental operators] are supporting the local economy. If there are 700 Airbnbs in the county, that’s potentially 1,400 tourists or more.”

According to a Picton-based sales representative, regulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She says most residents don’t take issue with their proximity to vacation rental properties, but that prudence is in everybody’s interest.

“I believe that the county would certainly gain additional revenue from the business,” said Sandra Foreman of Royal LePage ProAlliance Realty Brokerage. “A lot of people are nervous about having their neighbourhoods crowded and afraid of extra noise to their area, but, for the most part, they work pretty well. Of course, there is the occasional rambunctious crowd that arrives and creates noise, but I think those are few and far between. I have not heard very much negativity at all.”

Prince Edward County is sparsely populated, which bodes well for vacation rental property owners. While it’s too early to tell, Hull expects regulation to affect areas with concentrated populations, like Picton.

“There are areas in the county where the types of concerns raised by many citizens don’t really apply,” said Hull. “The most intense concerns are in the built-up areas like Picton, Wellington and Bloomfield, which are our major towns. In Prince Edward County, most people live in the countryside and it’s physically vast, so with Airbnbs in the countryside where neighbours are a quarter of mile away, you won’t have noise and parking issues, or the acute erosion of community.”

 

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