By Steve Hubrecht

[email protected]

The B.C. government announced new regulations for short-term rentals (STRs) earlier this month, but they will not affect the Columbia Valley.

That’s because all municipalities and rural electoral areas here are well below the threshold population of 10,000 for the new rules. And even if populations here were larger, there are exceptions in the new provincial regulations for B.C.’s 14 official designated resort municipalities, which include Invermere-Panorama Mountain Resort (which count together) as well as Radium Hot Springs.

The announcement about the Short Term Rental Act came on Monday, October 16 and when making it B.C. Premier David Eby explained it was aimed at least partly at turning STRs back into long-term rentals. The act will limit STRs to one per property and limits STRs to principal residences (i.e. homes and property on which the owners live themselves). This means second homes and vacation homes cannot be rented as STRs. It will allow fines for those breaking municipal STR bylaws to increase from $1,000 per infraction to $3,000.

But the new rules will, for the most part, only apply to communities with a population of 10,000 and will not apply to any of the province’s designated resort municipalities. A few communities with populations under 10,000 will be subject to the regulations, but only if they are within 15 kilometres of a larger centre of 10,000 or more people.

Communities to which the new regulations do not apply (including those in the Columbia Valley) can choose to opt in to them if they wish. On the other hand, communities that fall under the new regulations can apply to opt out, if they have vacancy rates of three per cent or greater.

Here in the Columbia Valley, the District of Invermere has been working on a STR bylaw for the past several years and is likely to adopt it this winter. The Village of Radium Hot Springs adopted its STR bylaw more than two years ago. The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) adopted an STR Temporary Use Permit (TUP) policy this past summer.

Local officials indicated that, for now, they intend to stay the course with their chosen municipal approaches to STR regulation rather than trying to ‘opt in’ to the new B.C. regulations.

“It’s something we could look at in the future, but right now we want to keep following our own trail,” Invermere Mayor Al Miller told the Pioneer.

Miller noted that the designated resort municipalities have long been different than other B.C. municipalities, particularly larger urban centres in terms of demographics, in the percentage of second home owners, and in the importance of their tourism industry as a proportion of the local economy.

“Personally, I would rather we have some STRs in Invermere. We simply do not have enough hotel rooms to cater to all the visitors who want to come to the valley. But it is important that we regulate them, and to me the most important part of that is that the STR has a manager who is here in the valley rather than elsewhere, and who can respond quickly to issues that arise.”

The latest draft version of Invermere’s proposed STR bylaw outlines a five-step series of escalating penalties for breaking the STR rules, beginning with a friendly letter and a $50 fine, then a cautionary letter and a $500 fine, a probationary letter and a $2,000 fine, termination of business licence and a $5,000 fine, and finally a referral to court and a $5,000 fine.

The initial $50 fine in Invermere’s draft bylaw contrasts with the $3,000 per infraction in the province’s new STR regulations.

Miller told the Pioneer that he personally is a fan of steep fines, saying “my own opinion is that fines that elevate quickly are important. I think that is the only way you can really get attention.”

Invermere just finished conducting the latest round of public consultation on its proposed STR bylaw, with an online survey that wrapped up on Friday, Oct. 27.

Miller said more than 300 surveys had been completed by local residents, adding he’s pleased with that result.

“It’s a strong response. I’m glad to see that. It is quite the topic, it affects a lot of people,” he said. “There is a lot of reading (of survey results) to do before we (Invermere council) can make any decisions.”

In Radium Hot Springs, village councillor Dale Shudra (who is acting mayor while Radium Mayor Mike Gray is away on vacation) explained to the Pioneer that Radium too has no immediate plans to opt in to the new provincial STR rules.

Shudra cautioned that he was speaking personally, since the matter has not yet been discussed by Radium council, but did tell the Pioneer that if Radium were to decide to opt in “it would be something that would need to be carefully thought through and be discussed with the community (through public consultation).” He noted that any such move would have a tremendous impact in Radium, since as far as he understands, more than 90 per cent of STR permits issued in Radium since the village adopted its bylaw have been to non-primary residence homeowners.

The RDEK feels the same as Invermere and Radium.

“While the pending provincial legislation offers new regulatory and enforcement opportunities for local governments, further review is needed to determine how the RDEK can best utilize the proposed tools,” said planner Justin Cook in a press release. “Ensuring that short-term rental uses conform to zoning regulations remains a top priority, and the new short-term rental temporary use permit process is not impacted at this time.”

The RDEK began taking applications for TUPs to run STRs in rural areas on October 1. For more information on that process, visit: engage.rdek.bc.ca/temporaryusepermit