Revelstoke council endorsed a crackdown on vacation rentals and set limits on the number that will be permitted in residential areas in the city.
Under the plan that council accepted at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, bylaw enforcement will be instructed to actively investigate illegal vacation rentals starting October 1. As well, the maximum number of vacation rentals in existing neighbourhoods will be capped at 125 bedrooms, with a maximum occupancy of 250 people.
“A lot of people recognize a vacation rental does fill a need and is a necessary type of accommodation for a lot of people,” said Mayor Mark McKee. “I think this is a real good start and a groundwork for dealing with vacation rentals.”
The move means the glory days of short-term rentals in Revelstoke is ending. The previous council adopted zoning regulations governing vacation rentals in 2014, but they were undermined when the existing council decided to enforce them on a complaints-only basis.
The new policy changes that. They come after several contentious public hearings over vacation rental applications, following which the City of Revelstoke asked for public input on its policy. Several dozen letters came into the city in response.
According to a staff report by Dean Strachan, the city’s manager of development services, there was an estimated 100 vacation rentals in the city last winter, with a total of about 300 rooms available.
The city has received 21 applications from property owners looking to re-zone their property to allow for vacation rentals. Of those 10 were approved, three were denied, one was withdrawn, one was placed on hold and six are in progress.
The city received nine letters from property owners saying they were ceasing operation and seven other properties were able to be licensed as commercial operations due to their zoning.
The 10 legal rentals comprise 34 bedrooms, while the six in progress would added another 17 rooms to the short-term rental pool, if approved.
The cap means many existing rentals won’t be able to be zoned legally. Strachan told council he hopes the new policies will encourage owners to apply. It also means the amount of accommodation available in Revelstoke this winter could decrease.
“Moving forward with enforcement, we’ll be removing vacation rentals from the market place in Revelstoke this winter,” he told council.
While the recommendations were unanimously endorsed by council, there was still a lengthy debate led by councillor Aaron Orlando, who said it lacked tools that could be used to regulate the market place.
He raised several concerns, notably that people who could afford the $1,800 application fee might move to re-zone their properties in order to get one of the limited spots or raise their property value — even if they have no intention of operating a vacation rental. That would shut other people out of the market.
“What we will be legalizing are only places where they have the capital outlay – the $1,800 – to get the bylaw through. That’s an $1,800 gamble, so only people that have that kind of resources to do it,” he said. “We’ll be permanently re-zoning these houses to vacation rentals to the exclusion of all others in the future.”
He put forward a motion asking staff to look at ways to rescind the zoning in the event the property is sold. While staff said that likely wouldn’t be possible, council approved it.
“It’s my understanding that municipalities have found a legal way to not make these transferable,” he said. “It’s a risk these businesses can be sold off and there’s a distant owner that the neighbours or council didn’t sign up for when they agreed to (the vacation rental).”
Orlando also questioned the business license fees and asked staff to re-visit them.
Strachan noted the issue was unlikely to go away. “I think this is going to be a work in progress for many years. I don’t anticipate this is going to ever be off our desks for work for refinement, to improve it,” he said.
Vacation rentals have been contentious for several years as the number in the city has grown. They are recognized as a necessary element of the tourist accommodation offering, with many visitors preferring to rent out homes or apartments rather than stay in hotels.
Still, many residents have complained that rentals disturb neighbourhoods, with guests coming and going. As well, they are seen to have a negative impact on long-term rentals by pulling potential rental homes from the market.
Revelstoke is far from the only community dealing with this issue, and several motions about short-term rentals set to debated at the Union of BC Municipalities Conference later this month.
The current bylaw says in order to become legal, a property must be re-zoned for vacation rentals. The process includes an $1,800 application fee and a public hearing, during which neighbours can voice their opinion. If legalized, vacation rentals can only be rented for a maximum of 120 nights per year and they must carry a valid business license, which costs $200, plus $5 per bedroom. They can have a maximum of four bedrooms, a maximum occupancy of two people per bedrooms, and require one on-site parking space per bedroom.