City of Revelstoke bylaw enforcement staff scan online and print classified ads almost daily, searching for illegal vacation rentals and illegal suites. The result? Currently, 17 residences are on a city compliance tracking list. If violations are confirmed, the city hopes to work with the offenders to achieve compliance, but they’re also reserving other more severe actions if they don’t get it.
City planning director John Guenther presented a report on the subject in a Feb. 15 report to city council. It was the first report on a new voluntary compliance procedure began in the summer of 2011.
The 17 illegal suites on the tracking chart fit into several categories:
– 14 were discovered by the city, while three were discovered via complaints
– Nine are in central Revelstoke, five are in Columbia Park, two are in Arrow Heights and one is in South Revelstoke
– 13 are vacation rentals, two are illegal suites, one is an occupied accessory building and one is a vacation rental/bed & breakfast
Guenther told the Times Review that the 17 suites were the most ever on the list since it was initiated. Others have been dealt with and removed, but that number was not readily available. Some were merely suspected illegal rentals that turned out not to be so. “In some cases they’ve advertised but not conducted illegal use,” Guenther said. Also, the city brought three illegal rentals into compliance through “injunction proceedings.”
The city is hoping offenders will comply, but they have other options if they don’t. “Staff is reviewing suite licensing options so that regular reports can be forwarded to Revenue Canada,” Guenther wrote in a report to council. “The Provincial Assessment authority will be informed, on a regular basis, regarding illegal commercial vacation rentals.” A change from a residential to commercial assessment would dramatically increase property taxes.
The majority of the homes were discovered by staff, usually online. Parking complaints are the main source of illegal rentals discovered by complaint.
City bylaw enforcement officer Tim Luini said the city was working to get non-compliant illegal suites up to code. “We are looking into what we can do to get them legalized,” he said. “There is a health and safety issue with a lot of these suites.” He gave the example of a basement suite bedroom that didn’t have windows big enough to allow for escape in a fire. Another was a lack of smoke alarms or fire extinguishers.
Luini had a message for those with illegal suites: “People that do have illegal suites and are worried about what it’s going to cost [them], come in and see us, and we’ll try to work [together].”
Currently, illegal suites that are discovered are being charged city utilities, but Guenther warned there was a danger there. Legal principles say the practise gives the illegal suite quasi-legal status. “You’re technically almost affirming it as being legal,” Guenther said.
But Luini said the practise was the status quo. “Any of the ones that we know about, we take them to [the] finance [department].”