Long-Term Frustrations – Short-Term Rentals

One frustration shared by many councilors and constituents is problems that are easily identifiable, that are raised over and over again, often with promises to do something about them, with solutions that seem reasonable, and yet no action is taken.  Some easily come to mind: septic system monitoring, climate change action, shoreline protection bylaws, and improving gravel roads. And, I am sure there are many more.

As frustrating as action on these issues can be, I want to thank the people who keep bringing them up.  If nothing else, consistently pushing to the surface over years is one way to tell that they are real issues. Over time, it also creates the cracks where the light gets in, thank you Leonard.   

One on my lingering problems list is the corporatization of the short-term rental (STR) business and its impact on our communities and the environment. Here too, thank you to members of the community for once again bringing STRs to the attention of Council and asking that action be taken.

At the November 2 Council meeting there will be a presentation by residents on corporate short-term rentals.  Their presentation is backed up by an online petition, which as I write it has 126 signatures, and numerous letters from other concerned residents.

Their presentation discusses the STR business, Air B+B, VBRO, Booking.com, etc. Air B+B alone had 240 listings in South Frontenac in August 2021. It is part of a nearly one-billion-dollar business in Ontario where 83% of the rentals in rural areas are whole homes: that is, they are not owner occupied, like a standard B+B. These facts significantly explain the lack of supervision of renter’s potential bad behaviour, the complex complaint systems, risks to renter and community safety, and the lack of municipal oversight. 

STRs in South Frontenac are part of a worldwide phenomenon that has seen chains purchase, or contract, many properties, often driving up local housing prices and limiting local resident opportunities, and running an accommodation business outside the community regulation systems that govern hotels, B+Bs and campgrounds. The problem has become so bad in many tourists cities, like Paris and Barcelona, that major street demonstrations have taken place with residents trying to reclaim their communities from STRs.

I regularly receive complaints from permanent residents and cottage owners about noisy renters engaged in dangerous activities that disrupt our communities and increase the threat to the environment.   The bottom line is that we have very weak bylaws that can help. Even those we have, like the noise bylaw and regulations around fireworks, require a bylaw officer to be present to have enforcement, and at most times in the Township that is not possible in a timely manner.

Many rural communities in Ontario are currently looking at bylaws to control the STR problem. There are numerous approaches that will help while maintaining the possibility for people to either rent a room in their homes or rent their place for short periods when they are away.  Both of which are important to help pay bills and increase affordable access to rural areas.

The presentation coming to Council asks for some form of licensing system, that will help control noise, the number of guests, maximum rental days and concentration of STRs.  I hope that a request for a bylaw will return to Council in November.  

This is an important discussion.  If you are interested, please consider the petition and read the presentation that is coming to Council. 

Follow-up

Council voted 8-1 in favour of appointing a replacement for Councillor Barr instead of holding an election.  If you know of someone who could be a good Councillor for Bedford District, they can apply on the Township website and they will be considered through a pubic vetting process which will end in Council appointing a Bedford Councillor.  

Council held a long and inconclusive discussion on the request from Southern Frontenac Community Services for help with their building fund.  A staff recommendation, based on the discussion, will be coming back to Council this month.

Official Plan

The consultants helping draft the new official plan will be presenting policy options to a special Committee of the Whole meeting on November 23.  While this is not a meeting that is open for public comment, you are welcome to listen-in and keep up-to date on our new official plan. Register for a link here.

About Ross Sutherland

nurse, researcher, public health care activist, councillor South Frontenac Township
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