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Illegal short-term rentals up in Collingwood: town officials

Current research indicates about 300 illegal short-term rentals are running in Collingwood, the majority located in the central and west areas of town; committee gives initial approval to move to public consult on the matter
2022-06-14 Airbnb JO-001
Despite short-term rentals (aside from licensed bed and breakfasts) being illegal in Collingwood, AirBnB shows a variety of listings within the municipality. It's not clear whether the listings conform to local bylaws.

Short-term rentals, aside from permitted bed and breakfasts, are currently illegal in Collingwood.

However, depending on public input, that may change.

During Monday night’s development and operations services standing committee meeting, the committee voted in favour of receiving an update on the state of short-term rentals in Collingwood, and directing staff to start public consultations on the subject to gain feedback on how to address the future of short-term rentals in town.

If the decision is ratified by council, the town is expected to start consultations this summer, and report back to council in December on the outcomes before council would make a decision on how to proceed.

“This report certainly addresses the complexities of this question. It is very evident how important it is to have a robust public consultation,” said Coun. Deb Doherty. “We normally only hear from disgruntled neighbours about STAs (short-term accommodations), but we don’t hear from the owners – probably because they’re illegal – or users.”

“This is a logical next step and I look forward to getting some direction that is going to be agreeable to our community as a whole,” she said.

Coun. Yvonne Hamlin said she sees the public consultation differently.

“I was totally opposed to regulation, but having read this, I can see that, should we decide to allow some form of STA, regulating it would ensure units are safe and we know who owns them so we can contact them if there are issues,” she said.

“Honestly, I don’t want to hear from the owners of these units, and I don’t want to hear from the users. In large measure, these are people who don’t live in our community,” said Hamlin. “I think who we need to focus on, are our residents.”

Hamlin said she has a family member who lived adjacent to a zone that allows short-term rentals in Blue Mountain.

“It was non-stop parties, notwithstanding all the regulations,” she said. “The clear focus of our residential neighbourhoods should be residential use.”

In Collingwood, it is illegal to rent out a home on a short-term basis (less than 30 days) unless it is a bed and breakfast where the owner or a manager is also staying at the home being rented. 

According to the staff report prepared by the town’s Licensing and Compliance Officer Amanda Fone, a review of online rental platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO and Flipkey by a third-party provider found about 300 active short-term rentals in town, the majority located within the central and western parts of Collingwood.

“Given the potential of approximately 300 illegal STAs within Collingwood, there remains a concern about how current regulations could be effectively enforced with the resources available,” noted Fone in her report.

To further investigate this, the town is currently seeking a third-party provider to monitor 60+ online platforms to generate an inventory of active STAs within town boundaries. The submission deadline for the request for proposals for the work is June 20.

Between 2014 and 2022, the town’s bylaw services division received 263 calls for service related to STAs. In 2019, they received 58 calls, in 2020, they received 54, in 2021, they received 81 and in 2022 as of June 1, they received 33 calls.

“As COVID-19 public health restrictions are removed and the tourism industry re-gains popularity, it is likely that complaints regarding illegal STAs will continue to increase,” wrote Fone. “There is concern the bylaw services division will not be able to keep up with situation within the current framework.”

Benefits of allowing short-term rentals in a municipality can include economic opportunities, expanded accommodation options and increased tourism. Challenges can include contributing to a shortage of affordable and available long-term rentals, impacting local hotel/motel and legitimate bed and breakfast businesses, public safety/community impacts and enforcement.

Should it be determined that the town should allow short-term rentals, options under consideration for monitoring include licensing, registration, zoning or implementing a Municipal Accommodation Tax. The staff report outlines how other municipalities such as the Town of the Blue Mountains, Wasaga Beach and Orillia have handled the monitoring of short-term rentals in their areas, and their levels of success.

“It is clear there is an acknowledgement among municipalities that online rental platforms will continue to exist, and as a result, many jurisdictions have moved away from a total ban to permitting through regulation,” notes the staff report.

The report was initially requested by council in November 2020.

During Monday’s meeting, Coun. Kathy Jeffery acknowledged how difficult the file has been to compile.

“As a councillor, I was receiving at least a call a day about neighbourhoods being disrupted by STAs,” she said, asking for a fixed date for the results of the public consult to come back to council. “It was pointed out to me that once the Town of the Blue Mountains put their enforcement and licensing in place, all it did was move it here to Collingwood.”

“We haven’t protected ourselves after what Blue Mountains put in place,” she said.

Clerk Sara Almas confirmed that the report is planned to come back in December 2022 after the municipal election.

The committee voted in favour of recommending receiving the report and proceeding to public consultation on the subject. Acting Mayor Keith Hull was absent from the meeting.

UPDATE: Council voted unanimously in favour of proceeding to public consultation on the subject at their June 27 meeting.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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