Revelstoke hoteliers urge council to address illegal vacation rentals

Revelstoke Accommodation Association says illegal vacation rentals have unfair operating advantage, hurt housing market and cost city money.

Many illegal vacation rentals are advertised on sites like VRBO and AirBnB

Many illegal vacation rentals are advertised on sites like VRBO and AirBnB

The Revelstoke Accommodation Association is urging council to take up the issue of illegal vacation rentals, saying they cost the city money and have a negative impact on the housing market.

“We believe illegal vacation rentals affect every person in our community, if not directly, then indirectly,” Norm Langlois, the president of RAA, told council on Tuesday.

Langlois’ presentation was based on three issues. First, he said illegal vacation rentals had an unfair advantage by not having to charge full taxes on rooms, and also not having to pay commercial property tax rates an other fees to the city.

Hotels have to pay business taxes, pay for a business license and pay separately for garbage removal — costs illegal rentals don’t have, said Langlois.

“Just imagine, if you will, any other industry in this town opening up shop and not paying proper taxes or acquiring business licenses,” he said. “We feel there is an obligation by the city to fine the abusers, enforce the bylaw and ensure all citizens pay their fair share.”

Secondly, Langlois said illegal vacation rentals took rental housing off the market, driving up costs and making it harder for families to find homes to rent. Homes sits empty while owners wait until the peak season to rent out their properties to vacationers.

“We believe many investors would choose not to open vacation rentals if they had the associated cost of a legal rental,” he said. “This could open more housing desperately needed for young families. They are future volunteers and coaches. They are the very fabric of our community.”

Finally, Langlois said not enforcing vacation rentals was costing the city money. The city is losing up to $20,000 annually in lost licensing fees, and more than $100,000 in taxes and utility fees, by allowing vacation rentals to operate unencumbered by regulations.

“When you consider nearly half of illegal rentals opened since 2014, this problem can only get worse as time goes on and we believe it affects the entire community,” he said.

Council generally agreed that it was an issue that needs to be dealt with, but not quite yet.

“Vacation rentals are going to be dealt with but right now we’re trying to get other issues off our plate,” said Mayor Mark McKee. “My biggest concern is the pressure it puts onto affordable housing. I can tell you it’s not completely off the table. It’s not going to stay the way it is forever.”

The City of Revelstoke adopted a zoning bylaw allowing for vacation rentals in July 2014. Since then, six property owners have had their vacation rentals legalized, while another seven ceased operation. Council decided earlier this year to enforce illegal vacation rentals on a complaints-only basis.

In a report to council in September, Dean Strachan wrote there was an estimated 60 illegal vacation rentals operating in Revelstoke.

Meanwhile, councillor Scott Duke has submitted an application to legalize a vacation rental he owns at 402 Cedar Street. Council voted to allow staff to begin work on the application on Tuesday. The application still needs to proceed through three readings and a public hearing before it can be adopted.

The property is advertised as available for rent this winter. ()