Editorial: Step up ticketing to reduce illegal STVR use

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Salt Spring Islanders are justifiably concerned when they look at the rising COVID-19 infection rate attributed to partying vacationers in Kelowna.

B.C. has of course opened up in the past six weeks and visitors should be welcomed as much as possible. However, with reports of large groups of people converging on Salt Spring from parts unknown, sharing a house for the weekend and likely venturing out to island restaurants, grocery stores and other places, it’s an unfortunate recipe for a Kelowna repeat.

Salt Spring Islands Trust bylaw enforcement officer Warren Dingman says the Trust always receives complaints about noise and other impacts of large groups in vacation rentals during the summer, but this year COVID-19 concerns are added to the mix.

That’s why a motion that was set to be introduced at the July 28 Salt Spring Local Trust Committee meeting makes a lot of sense. Trustee Laura Patrick has suggested that Trust staff ask vacation rental platforms to remove properties that contravene local bylaws, with entire homes being the specific target. In several cases, an off-island property manager is handling the rental for absent property owners. The house is in effect a commercial enterprise in a residential zone, not a mortgage helper for island residents.

In case anyone is deluded or has heard otherwise, short-term vacation rentals are not allowed on Salt Spring under terms of the island’s land-use bylaw. Private rooms in homes and cottages can be rented as legitimate B&Bs following Islands Trust bylaws and guidelines. Whole homes cannot legally be rented out.

A March 2020 report to Islands Trust Council indicated there were 124 open bylaw enforcement files on Salt Spring as of the end of 2019, but only 21 of those were about short-term vacation rentals.  That is despite a Salt Spring Local Trust Committee directive to proactively enforce the STVR ban. Dingman says the Trust is prepared to ticket vacation rental users, but has not done so yet. He did not have access to date about ticketing owners and property managers.

Illegal STVRs can already cause major consternation for residents living nearby. Valid fears of community transmission of COVID-19 should give the Trust the rationale they need to use all the tools at their disposal to quash them this summer.

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