Impact of short-term rentals

The topic of AirBNB and its effect on neighbourhoods doesn’t seem to be an election issue in my home city of Kelowna, or throughout the central Okanagan. But perhaps it should be.

The concept of short-term rentals may or may not be popular among the majority of voters or residents in the valley. I’m not sure if there was a groundswell of support to press various councils to rezone certain neighbourhoods to allow what are essentially “boutique hotels” in the middle of residential neighbourhoods, or if it just seemed the thing to do because of their popularity in other areas.

Businesses that may negatively affect residential areas are not allowed, so why are short-term rentals that essentially are “boutique hotels”? These short-term rentals are businesses requiring a business licence that have the potential to have a negative impact on a neighbourhood.

The varying municipalities in our region have different rules when it comes to short-term rentals and in all cases, they are only allowed in certain zoned areas and have requirements such as off street parking etc. But these areas that allow short-term, for the most part, don’t really appear to be any different than zoned areas that don’t allow short-term rentals.

Whether it be Kelowna, West Kelowna or Lake Country, the bylaws surrounding short-term rentals and the concept that the home must be owner-occupied really are impossible to enforce. (This isn’t a situation like a bed and breakfast, where the homeowner is on site and caring for the visitor).

Perhaps short-term rental bylaws should require the homeowner be on site during the rental.

What occurs now is the owner is off site and the short-term tenant becomes the neighbourhood’s problem. Not all short-term tenants are noisy or trouble but they are in many cases.

This week, I visited Kelowna City Hall to see how the city bylaw requires a home to be “owner occupied” 240 days a year” to be permitted as an airbnb is enforced.

The licensing department referred me to bylaw enforcement. Bylaw enforcement referred me back to licensing. When I explained to licensing that bylaw enforcement sent me back to them, the department dug deeper and informed me when the short-term rental licence is applied for proof of residency may be required.

When I asked how complaints are acted upon in case of violations, I got the expected unsure look.

In West Kelowna, I recently learned of a situation of a home-owner who sold their home in the heated Okanagan real estate market. The seller received multiple offers for the home and the successful buyer’s situation was presented as people who would love the home and be great neighbours, or words to that effect.

It now appears the home is being run solely as an Airbnb and has become a headache to the neighbourhood. Just like in Kelowna, the bylaw requirement that an Airbnb be the owner’s principal residence is difficult, if not impossible to enforce.

My assumption is that the concept of short-term rentals was to allow people who travel to rent their own home out on occasion. That sounds reasonable.

What has occurred is investors and speculators are buying “businesses” that can, and do, create unhappy neighbours.

These properties take rentals out of the market and take homes that may otherwise have been purchased by legitimate homebuyers out of the market.

When affordability, supply and demand are of such big concerns, this is obviously an issue. That is an issue every city council and the provincial government should stay in front of when they claim to be concerned about housing affordability and supply.

Full disclosure, I am a realtor in the Okanagan who likely has clients who have purchased homes to be used for (short-term rentals), I don’t know for sure.

I may look like a hypocrite and I may stand to lose business for this opinion but I’m more concerned with people buying or renting homes than “businesses”.

If you think that short-term rentals in residential neighbourhoods should be an election issue, let the candidates know or email me [email protected].

Blake Roberts

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