By Steve Hubrecht

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Last week the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) made public its priorities for action report on short term rentals (STRs), an issue of ongoing burning interest in the Columbia Valley.

The UBCM report was the work of a joint advisory group (consisting of UBCM and provincial government officials) and contains a list of 13 requests for the provincial government to consider in terms of potentially creating a B.C. wide-regularly framework for STRs, or for other policy options to deal with the issue.

As loyal Pioneer readers are no doubt all-too-keenly aware, the explosion of STRs in the Columbia Valley has created all kinds of headaches for local governments and some residents, as well as many positive opportunities for homeowners in the past five or six years. 

The Village of Radium Hot Springs adopted a bylaw on STRs this past August, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) board of directors is expecting regional staff to present a report and recommendations on dealing with the issue this coming spring, and the District of Invermere launched a survey on the topic earlier this fall, in addition to Invermere councillors regularly being pressed by residents to catch up with Radium and the RDEK on the matter (see last week’s Pioneer for more).

Although the Columbia Valley (with its considerable tourism industry, high number of vacation homeowners, and close proximity to Alberta) may have been more pointedly bedevilled by the STR issue than B.C. communities (those with fewer second homeowners and smaller tourism industries), there are indeed many parts of B.C. that are, in their own unique ways, feeling the STR crunch, and STRs are indeed a province-wide concern.

“While local governments in B.C. have tools to regulate short-term rentals for vacationers and others, most lack the capacity to enforce them,” noted a UBCM press release accompany the report, which was made public on Thursday, Nov. 3. “The ever-expanding online accommodation bookings industry has reduced long-term rental housing capacity at a time when housing availability and costs are already under pressure. At the same time, a property’s earning potential from short-term rental use leads to higher prices in the market than local incomes can support.”

The report is a “discussion paper” indeed to prompt further discussion and examination of possible policy approaches, Radium mayor, Clara Reinhardt, told the Pioneer. Reinhardt, as the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG) president, and consequently a member of the UBCM executive, has been closely involved with the report.

“The recommendations put forward by the UBCM report can only assist communities in regulating STRs. In the opening paragraphs, there is a recognition that every community is experiencing the STRs differently, and certainly, in the Columbia Valley, we are evidence of that,” explained Reinhardt.

Other online platform-based industries have already seen provincial regulation, she noted, but STRs are perhaps trickier in some respects.

For instance, in terms of taxation, which is one of six broad umbrellas topics the 13 requests fall under, the UBCM has recommended creating a new — or expanding existing — split classifications of properties, “because an STR, or at least most of the STRs we have in Radium, are not entirely residential and are not entirely commercial. The owners are living in them some of the time, and they are renting them out some of the time,” said Reinhardt.

The six umbrella topics are: platform accountability or regulation; data sharing on STRs (including property information, host details, frequency of use and income generated, licensing information, and information on complaints); taxation; local government regulatory tools; local government capacity to deal with STRs; and a lack of data on long term rentals markets in B.C. communities. 

On the last topic, the UBCM press release noted that “local governments are unable to obtain complete and accurate data needed to understand exactly what is happening with short-term rentals in their own community.”

The first seven requests in the UBCM report include: introduce a provincial regulatory framework (similar to the one for ride-sharing, for instance); require online accommodation platforms to make data available; require platforms to validate business licenses or permits; require tax collection at the point of booking; share provincial sales tax (PST) revenues with local governments affected; consider changing the municipal and regional district tax (MRDT) to allow tax revenue to be used to offset impacts to housing and neighbourhoods; and expand split classifications of properties to reflect STRs dual commercial and residential uses. The other requests include: amending the Local Government Act to allow regional districts to issue business licences (to regulate STRs); increase the fines local governments can levy agains noncompliant STR operations; ensure provincial bylaw notice adjudicators have sufficient information and awareness to deal with STRs; develop an outreach program to help local governments deal with housing needs, including STRs; collaborate with federal and other agencies (such as Statistics Canada) to better collect and analyze rental housing data; and expand Housing Needs Reports requirements to include data on STRs.

“These requests for action would significantly reduce the regulatory burden for local governments, while continuing to offer flexibility to balance regulation with the benefits of having short-term rentals available,” said Whistler mayor and STR advisory group co-chair, Jack Crompton. “The report also acknowledges that there is a need for improved data on STRs in B.C. communities to support effective regulation, and the need for a provincial interface that is available to local governments.”