Huron resident dreads summer as she faces short-term rentals

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The end of winter and the start of beach season can be a source of excitement for some, but some Bluewater residents dread what the busy summer season will bring.

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Short-term rentals in Bluewater, and particularly in the Bayfield area, have long been a contentious topic, attracting the attention of council and the municipality as they attempt to address issues created by regularly rented properties and without regulation.

Christine Whittet, who has lived in Bayfield for more than 20 years, lost her husband in 2021. She lives next door to a short-term rental building with several animals, including three dogs, who she says are struggling with the constant arrival of new faces. in the neighborhood.

“What worries me the most is that people are going to complain about my dogs,” she said. “Every week there are different people and different dogs… It’s the anticipation of the tension coming back,”

Bayfield is one of many communities across Canada that have seen the emergence of short-term rentals, with the popular Airbnb rental listing app listing 53 properties in the city for rent as of January 6. term rental properties on his street only.

“I don’t want to live next to a Holiday Inn,” Whittet said. “It’s too hard on the dogs, and there are a lot more pedestrians and cars.”

Some of the common concerns residents have with short-term rentals include noise, parking and safety issues, resulting from the increased number of cars parked in the area of ​​short-term rental properties and a lack of local street knowledge. In a bid to address some of these issues, councilors passed a motion last year to bring in MEU Consulting to provide on-call services for short-term rental complaints, but the municipality is still working explore a way forward to resolve these issues. questions, with the idea of ​​a licensing system on the table.

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Conversations about how the municipality should deal with short-term rental properties began in the summer of 2020 after Deputy Mayor Jim Fergusson introduced a motion at a council meeting to further eliminate short-term rentals in Bluewater. This motion ultimately did not pass with a 6-3 vote against, but these conversations have continued since then to include the possibilities for further enforcement of the regulations and the creation of a permit system through of the municipality.

While speaking with a reporter, Fergusson said residents of the community have been renting out their summer homes to relatives and friends for years, but said it was “totally different” from the short-term rental properties listed. in Bluewater.

“What we’re seeing now is people from even outside the county, and even further than that, buying recreational properties in the municipality and renting them out as a business,” he said. declared. “That brings a whole different range of issues to the fore.”

“It does nothing to improve the community and the quality of life for the residents surrounding it.”

But as thoughts continue at Bluewater on the way forward, Whittet said she was concerned about the upcoming summer season and its potential for disruption.

Whittet recalled a 2021 incident with a guest at the property next door to hers where her son’s car was dented while parked in her driveway, resulting in more than $2,000 in damage. According to Whittet, the guest had pulled his car to park between his driveway and the driveway of the neighboring property, and had dented his son’s vehicle when they opened their doors.

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“There were lots of other places she could have gone,” Whittet said. She said the guests appeared to be planning to move their vehicle and deny causing the damage, but her son called the police and they were eventually able to contact those who manage the property, who paid the insurance deductible. of his son.

“It was just a horrible experience,” Whittet said.

Whittet said she is also concerned about the potential for the spread of COVID-19 in the community when people from outside the local area travel, often from large urban areas, to stay near the lakefront.

Pictured is a map of properties listed on the popular Airbnb rental listing app, which lists 53 properties for rent as of January 6.
Pictured is a map of properties listed on the popular Airbnb rental listing app, which lists 53 properties for rent as of January 6.

“I think I just feel that what I moved to, and what I expected from our move here, is slowly going away,” she said. “The main thing, for me, is that this is a residential area.”

According to Fergusson, the municipality has been looking at what other municipalities have done to address similar concerns about short-term rentals as they consider how to move forward in Bluewater. But he said that under Bluewater’s already existing zoning regulations, bed and breakfasts are not a “permitted use” along the lake shore and in Bayfield.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “They are not allowed, so you have to go to the municipality and apply for a rezoning or a zoning bylaw amendment to allow this at your address. I still think it’s the right thing.

Fergusson said when these requests are made, neighbors are notified of the owner’s intention and the zoning change, giving them the opportunity to comment and provide feedback to council.

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“Otherwise people open them up everywhere and advertise them on the internet, and all of a sudden you’re living next door to a motel.”

On a licensing system, Fergusson said such a system would carry public expectations that licensed properties are monitored by the municipality and can stay safe and meet fire codes.

“It brings that extra level of reassurance to people doing it, and an extra level of reassurance to neighbors.”

While unclear when a report outlining the way forward regarding licensing and regulation of short-term rentals in Bluewater would be presented to council due to the recent departure of former director of development services Mike Rolph, Fergusson said the report was supposed to come back to the board before the start of the 2022 summer season, with the aim of implementing these changes before the start of the season.

If a licensing system is introduced in the municipality, Whittet said she would like to see limits on the number of people allowed to stay in a short-term rental, as well as requirements for communication with neighboring residents of rental properties. short term.

“I have no idea who the owners are here,” she said. “I couldn’t tell you who they were.”

“Communication would be key,” she continued. “That would make things much easier.”

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