Local expert says ban on short-term rentals in Collingwood should stay
“If Collingwood’s goal is to find a way to protect the housing stock and the housing market for our residents, [allowing commercial short-term rentals] is the wrong approach,” says Collingwood resident and Canadian director of Fairbnb
As Collingwood dissects its ban on short-term rentals, a resident with experience in the matter is urging the city to keep this Pandora’s box tightly sealed.
The city is currently revising the zoning bylaw which prohibits short-term rentals except for bed and breakfasts or hotels. A survey asking the public to identify ‘needs, challenges and opportunities’ for short-term rentals prompted Collingwood resident Thorben Wieditz to speak out on the issue.
“When I saw the Collingwood survey I was blown away because it didn’t really differentiate between a short-term rental that is occasionally used and rented out by its owner or a commercial operation owned by someone. one that has multiple homes and does it as a business venture,” Wieditz said.
He is the Canadian director of Fairbnb, which was formed in 2016 and run by Unite Here Local 75, the Greater Toronto Hospitality Workers Union. It started because hotel workers feared that the collective agreements they had negotiated could protect them from the “ghost hotels” that were popping up in Toronto and the GTA as condos and others became rentals in short term on platforms like Airbnb.
Fairbnb has helped cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa craft legislation allowing landlords to occasionally rent out their own unit, but preventing investors from stockpiling units to turn into short-term rentals that were actually hotel units.
“In Collingwood, from what I see, there are a lot of short-term rentals, but the main difference [from the city] it’s that they’re not allowed except for bed and breakfasts, which I think is a good rule,” Wieditz said. “Housing is a premium. Very little rental material is produced. There are people who rent or buy housing to turn it into hotels and I don’t think that’s the right way for a municipality that has an interest in maintaining affordability or accessibility to housing for people who really want live here .”
Collingwood Council has made no decision to change the rules surrounding short-term rentals in town, which refer to any rentals for less than 30 days. But council has expressed an interest in reviewing the local bylaw that prohibits them.
“It seems to me that the city is trying to regulate it in a way that might actually become more problematic than the current situation,” Wieditz said. “If you come up with very elaborate regulations that allow short-term rentals under certain conditions, then it becomes a burden of proof to establish whether a particular property is being used illegally or not. It becomes very difficult.”
As of February 2022, the city had third-party data collection on popular online rental platforms, including Airbnb, VRBO, and booking.com, and identified approximately 300 active short-term housing rentals available, despite the city-wide ban.
A staff report noted that the city is concerned about how the current regulations can be effectively enforced given available resources. Enforcement is largely initiated on the basis of a complaint.
Between 2014 and 2022, the Municipal Services Division received 263 calls for service related to ATS. In 2019 they received 58 calls, in 2020 they received 54, in 2021 they received 81 and in 2022 as of June 1 they received 33 calls.
According to Wieditz, a ban is easier to enforce than a regulated use. He noted that it’s simple to scrape websites and identify hosts who are illegally renting units.
“It’s a fairly easy task to determine if the unit is inhabited or rented out to guests, visitors and tourists,” he said.
It gets more complicated when enforcers have to prove there were six guests instead of the allowed four, or if a rental unit was rented 92 days a year instead of 90.
“If Collingwood’s goal is to find a way to protect the housing stock and the housing market for our residents, [allowing commercial short-term rentals] is the wrong approach,” he said.
His view is that Collingwood’s bylaw be left as is with a blanket ban and that the city hire a third-party firm to help with enforcement by tracking down operators who rent illegally.
The city has issued a tender, which is now closed, to find a third party to generate an inventory of active short-term rentals within Collingwood’s boundaries by monitoring short-term rental platforms.
Wieditz suggested that if regulations come in to allow short-term rentals, it should be tied to a primary residence requirement, meaning only those who live in the house full-time can rent it short-term while on vacation. . or go away for the weekend.
“You immediately take care of the nuisance situation and the community cohesion situation. Second, it would not remove the housing stock,” Wieditz said.
He said that with no primary residence requirement in the regulations, commercial short-term rental operations will use the housing stock as ghost hotels.
He clarified that there is a location for commercial rental operations, such as Blue Mountain Village, but it is not in residential areas. He said cities have zoning regulations for hotels and bed and breakfasts, and a short-term commercial rental is more like those uses than a residential use.
“If you look at how we plan for housing, we follow provincial policies and growth plans and official plans to provide residential housing stock,” Wieditz said. “Everything is designed, planned and built as residential housing to achieve these goals. Ultimately, short-term rental hosts convert the residential housing stock into commercial units.
Arguments are made for the economic benefits of short-term rentals, and one of the city’s survey questions asks residents to identify the economic benefits of short-term rentals.
However, Wieditz argued that there were also negative impacts on the local economy, particularly on hospitality industries in the “regulated accommodation sector”.
“Short-term rentals decrease availability and increase rental costs and housing costs because it limits supply and we have more than enough demand,” Wieditz said. “I would never say short term rentals created the housing crisis, that’s just not true, but I would still say short term rentals contributed to it. It doesn’t help if we legalize a practice of moving accommodations to hotels.
In his work with Fairbnb, Wieditz and others are creating a co-op platform to launch in Toronto that will allow people to list their short-term rental units as long as they have a permit from the city. The platform will cross-check the city’s permit database to confirm.
Rental site Fairbnb will also direct 50% of booking fees to a city land trust. The project is supported by a grant from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Wieditz said the platform is an effort by Fairbnb to “lead by example,” to show what is possible.
The City of Collingwood is still accepting public input for its review of short-term rental rules, you can complete a survey or submit feedback via the Engage Collingwood website.
The city is also hosting a Short-Term Housing Open House on September 14 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Collingwood Public Library in Community Rooms B and C on the third floor.
Staff plan to report back to Council on this in December.