Actions take aim at short-term vacation rentals

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A provincial health order released Monday that will limit the number of people in vacation homes, houseboats and resorts has been welcomed by islanders concerned about the potential for coronavirus transmission, while the Islands Trust is also taking measures to prevent transmission in short-term vacation rentals.

Island Health saw a total of seven new COVID-19 cases in the July 10 to 23 period, with just one of those located in the Southern Vancouver Island/Gulf Islands subregion. Another six were in the central Vancouver Island area that includes Cowichan and Nanaimo. The Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast had 151 in the same period.

While many of the new cases in July were linked to Canada Day partying at Kelowna resorts, Salt Spring residents have also reported large groups of young people renting vacation homes.

“We have been getting the complaints and there is active enforcement taking place to get property owners and vacation rental operators/managers to cease the use,” confirmed Warren Dingman, the Trust’s bylaw enforcement manager.

The Salt Spring Local Trust Committee has a standing resolution for proactive enforcement on STVRs — defined as rental of a dwelling, suite, cottage, camping unit, accessory building or structure for a commercial guest accommodation in a zone that does not allow that for less than a 30-day period — if they are advertised on the internet, in newspapers or other media.

A search on online platforms such as Airbnb easily turns up many opportunities for large groups of visitors, however. At least seven homes were listed in July as being able to accommodate 10 or more guests.

Some places are specifically set up for partying, with features like sound systems installed on outdoor decks.

Smaller STVRs may be equally concerning as larger party houses due to COVID’s transmission potential in close quarters. In one example reported to the Driftwood, up to five vehicles were recently parked for the weekend at a two-bedroom rental cottage.

Dingman said there did not seem to be any increase in STVR complaints compared to 2019.

“The difference this year is the COVID-19 concern that is being raised, and concerns over self-isolating for travellers. Noise from large parties, or groups, has always been a common complaint in the summer months, regardless of year,” he said.

Dingman told the Driftwood that officers are empowered to give tickets to property owners, the property managers that handle rentals on their behalf, and even the guests who are renting the accommodations. So far officers have limited themselves to cautioning guests, although that could soon change.

Salt Spring trustee Laura Patrick planned to introduce a motion at Tuesday’s Local Trust Committee meeting in response to the dual issue posed by STVRs and COVID-19. The draft motion asked staff to compose a letter from the LTC chair informing key vacation rental platforms of the local bylaws and requesting they immediately remove properties that contravene those bylaws, especially entire homes.

New provincial health orders announced July 23 meanwhile increased the safety regulations for restaurants and nightclubs. Henry re-emphasized the fact that tables must seat a maximum six patrons and said people should not be asking staff to push tables together for larger parties. The new rules add prohibitions on dance floors and the self-service of alcohol from bars, and state patrons must remain seated unless visiting the washroom. All establishments must now close at 11 p.m.

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