By Steve Hubrecht

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The long process of regulating short-term rentals (STRs) took another big step closer to becoming reality last week when Invermere councillors voted to proceed with public consultations on the proposed new STR business licensing bylaw.

The consultation will take the form of public information and engagement meetings on Oct. 5. 

The number of STR rentals in Invermere has mushroomed in recent years, and many local residents (as well as the district’s 2021 housing needs assessment) put part of the blame for the increasingly acute lack of long-term rental housing and affordable housing on the rapid rise of STRs.

Invermere has been taking steps to regulate STRs for years now, and has faced repeated criticism from some residents over what they see as the district’s slow pace of progress. They contrast Invermere’s efforts with those of the Village of Radium Hot Springs, which adopted an STR bylaw more than two years ago, and the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) which adopted its STR bylaw earlier this summer.

There’s still some distance to go before Invermere adopts its bylaw, but councillors at the Tuesday, Sept. 12 council meeting were glad to be a few moves closer to that end. 

Over the summer Invermere staff had consulted with STR operators and STR management firms. That consultation has not resulted in any major changes to Invermere’s proposed STR bylaw, but councillors still felt that consultation had been worthwhile.

“It’s fair to say that it’s taken a long time to get here and most people in the public would say we should have done this some time ago,” said Invermere councillor Gerry Taft, adding he hopes the silver lining is that Invermere has learned some lessons from Radium and the RDEK, and consequently will have an easier time implementing and enforcing its STR bylaw.

“It’s easy enough for local governments to pass bylaws, it’s sometimes another thing to get them followed,” he said. 

Taft pointed out one key difference between Invermere’s proposed STR bylaw and those in place in some other small towns that are big outdoor recreation destinations, such as Nelson and Tofino: In Nelson and Tofino STR licenses are only granted to people who both own the property and live on the property in which the STR is located, but Invermere’s STR bylaw will not have such a requirement.

“The Columbia Valley is unique in terms of the sheer number of second homeowners here, so it (a requirement for the owner to live on the property) doesn’t make sense,” said Taft, adding that, however, the Invermere STR bylaw will have a requirement for a property manager with contact info to be listed for each STR.

“How well do you think they (the property managers) will answer the phone at 2 a.m?” asked resident Dave Tomalty, who was in the audience gallery at the meeting.

Taft said the district needs a carrot (enticements) and stick (consequences) approach. “From what we saw, I think there are about 180 AirBnBs in Invermere — almost 100 of them are in Lake Windermere Pointe and 80 throughout the rest of Invermere. Of those there’s probably about 10 to 12 that are causing almost all the problems,” he said, adding those problematic ones are ones that the ‘sticks’ will be needed for.

“I am still concerned about how this thing unfolds,” said Invermere resident John Rouse. “AirBnBs begin to break down what a community is . . . is there anything to address that . . . at the end of the day is this going to create more homes for the people that desperately need them today or tomorrow? I don’t think so.”

Taft replied “there isn’t an easy solution because it’s so expensive to build (homes).” He said the expenses are so great, and inflation has been so high during the past two years, that being a long-term rental landlord often no longer makes much financial sense. “In the future it may only be government or corporations that do long-term rentals” hypothesized Taft.

Invermere Mayor Al Miller was not at the meeting. He talked with the Pioneer a few days after the meeting, and speaking on when an STR bylaw might be finished, he said “we are getting there.” More specifically he said Invermere could have an STR bylaw in place as early as late October or early November, but “that will depend on how this public consultation (on Oct. 5) goes.”

The information and engagement meetings will be held at the Columbia Valley Centre. Presentations by district staff will be at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The district is asking would-be attendees to RSVP and register for a time slot, if possible.