Viewpoint: Unlawful STVRs must shut down

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By Miles Drew

The Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee (SSILTC) has requested that bylaw enforcement officers take action on unlawful short-term vacation rentals (STVR) operating on Salt Spring.

A short-term vacation rental is a dwelling unit that is occupied — other than by the owner — for less than a 30-day period. The SSILTC considers this form of rental to be “Commercial Guest Accommodation,” which is not permitted as a home-based business.

Approximately 140 STVRs currently operate on Salt Spring. The LTC requested proactive enforcement; not just because STVRs are unlawful in most residential areas, but because of a real concern that they are a major contributing factor to the affordable housing shortage on Salt Spring.

The housing situation on Salt Spring has recently been described — in the Driftwood and elsewhere — as a crisis. The Salt Spring Island Affordable Housing Needs Assessment (December 2015) outlines how the impact of the housing shortage is felt across the island. Renters have trouble securing long-term accommodation, often being forced to move numerous times over short period of time, while employers have trouble recruiting staff because there are no viable housing options for them. In addition, the reduced rental housing stock drives up rents and takes money out of the local economy.

It is worth stressing that STVRs are unlawful. Bed and breakfasts and other lawful home-based businesses have a series of requirements that must be met to remain compliant with zoning bylaws. Many of these regulations are designed to minimize impacts to neighbours, including parking, noise and signage. Local business owners go to great lengths to comply with relevant bylaws, and reasonably expect that competing tourist accommodations should also comply with bylaws and other regulations. 

This week, the Islands Trust bylaw enforcement team will begin proactive enforcement on Salt Spring property owners that operate unlawful STVRs that meet criteria set out by the local trust committee’s enforcement policy for STVRs. These include any STVRs that advertise on any platform or site, including Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.

Unlawful STVR property owners must cease their STVR operation. Some STVR operators might consider the possibility of applying to rezone the property to permit commercial guest accommodation or to apply for a temporary use permit; although there is no guarantee of success. 

The Islands Trust bylaw enforcement team will encourage STVR operators to comply with the land use bylaw. As a last resort, unlawful STVR operators and persons renting unlawful STVRs may face enforcement actions, which include bylaw violation notices up to $450 per day. 

The writer is the Islands Trust’s bylaw enforcement manager.

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