By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

Village becomes first Columbia Valley municipality to regulate STRs

The village of Radium Hot Springs became the first municipality in the Columbia Valley to adopt a bylaw regulating short term rentals (STRs) during its council meeting last week.

The bylaw was adopted by a three-to-one vote during the Wednesday, Aug. 18 council meeting, culminating a process that started years ago when council members began discussing ways to officially deal with the exploding number of STRs in Radium. The vote put a bylaw on the books for the village, but Radium mayor Clara Reinhardt was quick to point out that “this is really just the beginning of a journey” and that the village will almost certainly be revisiting the STR issue in the months to come and could very well end up tweaking the STR bylaw repeatedly in the future. “It feels pretty good that we now have something. There’s going to be growing pain. We know we’ll have to makes changes down the road. We are prepared to do that until we get it right,” said Reinhardt.

Although exact statistics on the number of STRs in Radium are impossible to come by (since STRs are not officially permitted), the number available in the village (and elsewhere in the Columbia Valley) on websites such as AirBnB and Vrbo has skyrocketed in recent years. Multiple municipalities in B.C. facing similar situations have created bylaws or regulations in an attempt to manage STRs, but very few municipalities in the Kootenay region have done so (notable exceptions include Golden, Nelson, and — likely starting this coming winter — Kimberley), and until last week, none in the Columbia Valley.

Reinhardt pointed out that Radium had little choice but to take a leading stance on the topic, because “when you look at the numbers it was a significant issue for us.”

At a public hearing on the bylaw just prior to the council meeting, several residents sent in letters outlining their position on STRs and on the bylaw. In addition, nine people attended the hearing in person, and 14 others participated in the meeting digitally via Zoom. Although most held widely differing opinions on STRs and precisely what is the best way to deal with them, a majority of attendees felt that something to manage them needed to be done, and most were supportive of some kind of bylaw.

“It (STRs) is not the big money maker people think it is,” said Darwin Baker, who owns a Radium property that he and his wife rent out as an STR when they are not using it themselves. He pointed out that with most of Radium’s accommodation options full to capacity on many summer weekends, STRs help bring in additional visitors to the village, as in so doing bolster the local economy. Baker added he does support regulations on STRs as well as the village’s bylaw. 

These sentiments were shared by Joyce McMurray, who said sometimes “it’s so busy (in Radium during summer), people ask if they can pitch a tent in my backyard.”

Greg Wood opined that STRs are artificially driving up local housing prices and suggested that the bylaw needed to have more “teeth” in terms of enforcement.

George Dumitrescu, another Radium STR owner, said the bylaw “makes sense,” and seems a fair way to create a more level playing field between STRs and traditional accommodators, adding a related issue in Radium is that “there is no room for development to have higher density, more affordable housing.”

At the council meeting after the public hearing Reinhardt said “my feeling is that we should move forward. We’ve been doing this for three years.”

Councillor Dale Shudra concurred, pointing out that the village has done many rounds of consultation, that nothing particularly new had come up at the public hearing, and that it was time to go ahead.

Councillor Tyler McCauley asked about the enforcement concerns Wood had brought up. 

Radium chief administrative officer, Mark Read, replied that “if we want to this to have more teeth and probably larger fines, we have to go through the judicial system. We can’t simply levy a $5,000 fine ourselves.”

Reinhardt explained that village’s STR licensing fees will start out relatively low because the village is only allowed to charge fees that will cover what it projects its operating costs (to implement and manage the bylaw) will be, and those costs are unknown at this point.

She also queried Read about how the bylaw (which limits STRs to one license per housing unit) would apply in developments such as Bighorn Meadows that have fractional ownership (i.e. timeshares).

“That is going to be a challenge,” answered Read, adding “I see us working it out from an administrative stand point, with the challenging part being issuing one license to multiple (timeshare) owners.”

The council member voted three-to-one to adopt the bylaw. 

“I think there will be pretty good acceptance,” Reinhardt says.