By Steve Hubrecht

The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) has plans to address the issue of short term rentals (STR).

Owner-operated STR with guests staying in private residences, such as those offered through Airbnb and Vrbo, have exploded in popularity in the Columbia Valley in the past decade. As reported in the Sept. 17 issue of the Pioneer, the Village of Radium Hot Springs already has a draft bylaw dealing with STR, and the RDEK will likely start taking steps on the matter in a few months time.

“I expect the (RDEK) board (of directors) is going to get the development services department to start looking at that sometime in 2021,” said RDEK planning and development services manager Andrew McLeod, adding the board has already earmarked the issue as a priority that needs to be dealt with, although no official steps have been taken by RDEK staff. “It’s still on our to-do list,” added McLeod.

The staggering proliferation of STR in the Columbia Valley in recent years has created a few challenges, and the RDEK does sometimes hear from concerned residents on the topic.

“Certainly we do on occasion receive complaints from the public about short term rentals,” said McLeod, adding the nature of these complaints usually centres around loud noise and parties, short-term rental users parking in the complainant’s driveway, or out-of-province users staying at short-term rental units during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the RDEK has not done any formal measures, a committee dealing with the issue was formed almost a year ago by RDEK Area F director Susan Clovechok. The committee was comprised of local citizens and property owners, including representatives from the Panorama Home Owners Association, the Fairmont Community Association, Columere Park, the Windermere Community Association and Fairmont Creek Vacation Management.

“It was a commitment that I made, to look at this issue, when I ran to become Area F director,” Clovechok told the Pioneer. “The ad hoc committee was something I wanted to do to help the issue along.”

The committee ended up meeting twice, once in December 2019 and once in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, putting an end to the meetings. A summary of the committee’s meeting was submitted to the RDEK in August. Some of the challenges associated with STR that the committee identified include absentee owners, no on-site management/contact to deal with problem guests, negative impact on commercial accommodators and the lack of a “level playing field” between commercial accommodators and short term rental operators, potential for tax evasion, parking off property or on other people’s property, and changing the feel of a neighbourhood or sense of community in an area. Potential solutions discussed included zoning, restricting the number of STR in a neighbourhood or creating a basic guide for operating a short term rental.

During the February meeting, Clovechok relayed that RDEK staff had suggested zoning may not be an ideal way to deal with STR, since zoning stays with a property in perpetuity, and that temporary use permits may be a good alternative tool to regulate STR, as such permits need to be renewed and could be revoked.

Clovechok and Fairmont Creek Vacation Management co-owner Beck Green drafted a list of potential regulations for the RDEK to consider in developing a policy related to STR. These included that a manager or contact for each rental be maximum 20 minutes away to respond to neighbourhood complaints, that neighbours of rental be given that contact’s name and numbers, that parking be contained within the property of the rental and not spill out on the street, that guests be limited to two per bedroom (expect infants and toddlers), that short term rental owners pay applicable taxes, that safety standards are assured, and that there be a mandatory quiet time (from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. for instance). Other potential regulations were that temporary use permits for a short-term rental be revokable any time due to non-compliance, that short term rental not be permitted within two kilometres of commercial accommodators, and that short term rental owners must show evidence of proper homeowner insurance specifically allowing for STR.