Original Published on Aug 12, 2022 at 14:13

By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Early into the four-hour discussion about short-term rental (STR) accommodations, Tiny Township Deputy Mayor Steffen Walma asked the latest in a string of exasperated deputants: Is this better than doing nothing?

The repeated theme of the special meeting of council which focused on the licensing component of STRs in the municipality was that it was a starting point.

Elimination of problematic ‘ghost hotels’ – unconstrained rented dwellings with absentee landlords – remained the primary drive behind many of council’s decisions, and one they continually returned to when discussion matters became fuzzy.

After hammering out the details, council ultimately approved several changes to finalize the licensing bylaw for STRs.

With roughly 400 STRs operating in the township currently, a set amount of 300 licence applications would be issued on a first-come-first-serve basis with a tentative start date of October 4 through November 15.

The intent was to reduce the number of applicants who couldn’t qualify or would find the new bylaws too restrictive, such that applications would fall below the 300 level, after which STR licenses would be slowly issued until a hard cap of 300 was reached once again.

A $1,500 flat licensing fee was agreed upon in the first year of implementation; staff calculated that after the hiring of many required part-time, full-time and contracted positions and various expenses, just under $1,350 would be needed.

Walma proposed $1,500 as a round number to further lift any burden from the ratepayers to place solely on STR licensees.

The demerit system was upheld over a suggested three-strikes method, and all STRs will be required to have their licence number displayed visibly for transparency. Granicus – the backbone of the system through STR management software and ongoing compliance monitoring – is intended to be the source where any complaints can be registered with evidence of proof, whereupon a tabulated history will document all licensed STRs in Tiny Township.

Enforcement, a concern by many residents, will be increased through the hire of a full time STR officer as a point-of-contact. As Granicus receives a notification through officer observation or resident complaint, appropriate enforcement will occur.

Numbered corporations running STRs in residential areas were in council’s sights as well.

Township lawyer Sarah Hahn stayed on-hand throughout the meeting to deftly provide real-time bylaw adjustments as council discussed the matters.

“We can certainly create a clause that only individuals be permitted to have a licence, and this certainly would be in line with the township’s goals of reducing and eventually removing these ghost hotels,” stated Hahn. “This STR licensing bylaw is being used to regulate people’s use of their homes and their cottages, and it’s not here to facilitate any commercial enterprise.”

While one license per individual was the intent, Hahn acknowledged that legal residential uses of properties held by estates or within different corporate names could require discretion for a licensing decision, but reaffirmed the township’s stance on ghost hotels.

“Just because there is a grandfathering transition period doesn’t mean that corporations are permitted to continue any operations of ghost hotels. It’s been legal’s opinion and staff’s position that the residential use of properties for STRs has been a permitted use, but at no point have these ghost hotels been legal; and so those would not be grandfathered,” Hahn added.

An appeal committee will also be established using the same model as the STR task force, tentatively including one council member, one STR owner, and one STR neighbour as the court to decide upon appeals; staff was directed to report back on a terms of reference for the committee.

One starting point, which council struggled with, was the maximum cap of 10 occupants, and the enforcement that could arise from a renter as contrasted, for example, with a guest who may not spend the night but who might find themselves doing just that if they became intoxicated.

Council asked staff to look into the recommendations of other municipalities with STR licensing bylaws for information.

The township’s summer parking schedule will be employed to determine when STRs could advertise.

Between April 15 through October 15, no advertising or rental permits will be allowed for fewer than six consecutive days, intending to limit short-term ‘party houses’ that could show up and evacuate just for weekends. Conversely, from October 16 to April 14, rentals open up although no advertising and rental permits will be allowed more often than once in every six-day period. Finally, rentals are only allowed for a total of 92 days per calendar year.

It was a long process and a tough night of hard decisions.

Walma quipped that both the pro-Airbnb and anti-Airbnb took issue with the draft. The occasional technical difficulty hampered deputations, council and staff alike during the virtual meeting.

However, council approved the licensing bylaw for STRs and announced their next steps.

On October 4, the licensing bylaw will go into effect, as the Granicus system goes live to receive applications.

Council looked at possible bylaw amendments for their next council meeting should they be required, and reinforced that the new territory for the township was, once again, a starting point.

“This has not been easy,” stated Mayor George Cornell at the end of the meeting.

“I’d like to think that with the help of the input of the public, our short-term rental task force, and council, that I think we’ve arrived at a good spot… and look forward to the implementation of our new short-term rental licensing bylaw.”

Detailed information, including the official plan, zoning bylaw amendment, and licensing bylaw, as well as all related documents and materials, can be located through the short-term rental page of the Tiny Township website.

The draft licensing bylaw and agenda documents for the meeting can be viewed within the agenda page located on the Tiny Township website.

Archives of council meetings are available to view on Tiny Township’s YouTube channel.

This item reprinted with permission from MidlandToday.ca, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario