Fines, regulations and a crackdown on illegal short-term rentals advertised on websites like AirBnb could be coming to Squamish after councillors recommended staff begin drafting such restrictions.
During a discussion at a committee meeting on Tuesday, councillors empathized with people trying to offset their pricey mortgages, but were concerned about the impact of short-term rentals on the more long-term rental housing market.
“I get why a lot of people are doing this, but the problem is we’re losing staff, people are moving away because they can’t find housing. We need to find a balance,” said Coun. Karen Elliott.
District staff told councillors there are currently 356 properties listed on AirBnb, representing around four per cent of the overall housing supply in Squamish. The majority of the listings are offering entire homes for short-term rental, rather than rooms in a house. “I’m quite amazed at some of those numbers, to be frank,” said Coun. Doug Race.
The number of listings has almost doubled since May 2016, but there are only eight licensed bed and breakfast businesses legally operating in the district.
Analysis by District staff looked at the advantages of regulating short-term rentals, including income for homeowners and tourist accommodation. Staff also looked at how other municipalities handle the issue.
Short-term rentals are not permitted in most residential zones in Whistler, and the requirement for a business license is being strictly enforced. A similar policy is in place in Sechelt and Tofino.
Mayor Patricia Heintzman said the current enforcement in Squamish is complaints driven.
That could change – councillors agreed at the meeting on Tuesday that the creation of a policy to regulate short-term rentals should be a priority. That recommendation will now go to council to be finalized.
“I don’t think we have any choice but to move against them in some form,” he said, adding that AirBnb-type rentals conflict with the District’s goal to encourage housing,” said Race.
“We need to set some significant fines for it, and I think we have to be prepared to move against some people, set some example, and publicize it widely. People will not comply, they just won’t readily give up a cash flow like that.”