Revelstoke council is facing pressure to abandon its policies relating to secondary suites and vacation rentals.
Early in July, council received letters from two owners of legal secondary suites complaining they were being unfairly targeted by a new business license fee. Why should they have to pay for a business license when owners of rental homes didn’t?
Last week, council received a letter from the Revelstoke Accommodation Association saying the city’s policy of not pursuing owners of illegal vacation rentals was hurting local businesses and costing the city money.
Both issues were addressed at last Tuesday’s council meeting.
On secondary suites
On secondary suites, council was presented with a staff report explaining how the $50 business license fee came to exist. First, council approved it as part of the business license fee schedule in March, then it became part of fees & charges bylaw in May.
The fees for secondary suites and vacation rentals were presented to council at the same time. The fee for secondary suites was passed without any council discussion.
One property owner complained of the secondary suite fee before it was adopted. The other two letters came after property owners were asked to pay the fee.
Mayor Mark McKee said owners were being asked to acquire a business license as a way of tracking who has secondary suites, and as a matter of safety and security.
“It’s not about the fee,” he said during last Tuesday’s council meeting. “It’s about knowing whats going on, control, making sure things are done properly and making sure city hall knows where these things are.
“If people around the table are concerned about the fee, now is the time to throw it on the table,” he added.
No councillor took him up on that challenge, however they did indicate that it was something that was being looked at.
“Some of these things take time and I anticipate we’ll be working on them over time,” said councillor Aaron Orlando.
I conducted a follow-up interview with Dean Strachan, the city’s manager of development, to find out why a business license was necessary, when the city already had knowledge of who owned legal secondary suites.
He said the license lets the city know how many secondary suites are in operation at any one time.
“Business licensing adds another tool to our tool box for dealing with problem properties,” he added.
Strachan said the city does not hunt down owners of illegal secondary suites, and, like other bylaws, only goes after people if there’s a complaint.
“They would have to legalize the suite through a building permit,” he said.
He said the city could look at licensing rental houses if council gave the direction to do so.
On vacation rentals
The letter from RAA stemmed from a policy adopted by council that illegal vacation rentals would only be dealt with on a complaints basis. According to RAA, there are about 65 illegal vacation rentals in Revelstoke, and the city is forfeiting as much as $192,000 in licensing fees, fines and taxes by not going after them.
The letter goes on to say that illegal rentals have an impact on housing availability in the city
“Try to imagine the effect that 60 to 100 illegal restaurants or illegal retail stores would have on local business,” wrote Norm Langlois, the chair of RAA. “The Revelstoke Accommodation Association is seeking a ‘level playing field’ with these new enterprises with consideration to required licencing, zoning, safety requirements and tax contributions.”
Council responded to the letter by inviting RAA to address them in person. Council will also be receiving a report on vacation rentals shortly.
I spoke to Strachan following the council meeting to get an idea of what will be in the report. He said 40 vacation rentals were subject to bylaw enforcement complaints since 2012. The city estimated another 20 were in existence. After council adopted its vacation rental bylaw, the property owners were sent letters asking them to either legalize, or cease to exist.
Since then, six vacation rentals have become licensed. Another 10 responded to the city by saying they stopped operation. Eight got approval by becoming bed & breakfasts.
Strachan added that there were 10 formal complaints about illegal vacation rentals in the winter of 2013-14, and only one last winter.
The city doesn’t actively look for illegal vacation rentals.
“We do track in a certain way to look for issues that might be life safety issues,” he said. “We’re not tracking or pursuing resources that haven’t been allocated to that unless we receive a complaint.”