By: Mike Anderson

After several years of handwringing, consultant’s reports and resident’s complaints, Town Council finally passed a bylaw on October 9th that licenses short-term rental accommodations (STRA) in Georgina.

Starting in January 2020, hosts operating STRAs on online platforms, like Airbnb and Vrbo, will have to purchase an annual license from the Town to operate their rentals, which the bylaw defines as a single-family dwelling offered for rent for less than 31 days.

Effectively, it will be illegal for anyone to operate or advertise a short-term rental in Georgina without a license.

Fines are substantive: $25,000 for a first offence, and $50,000 for any subsequent offence; while corporations face an initial fine of $50,000, and $100,000 for further offences.

If the host inhabits the dwelling, the cost of the license fee is $250, plus the cost of a fire inspection ($122) and septic inspection ($106) for properties not municipally serviced. The annual renewal of the license fee will be $150, plus the cost of a fire inspection.

Besides the license fee, hosts will be required to submit a detailed site and floor plan, proof of insurance and an Electrical Safety Certificate (ESA).

However, if the host doesn’t reside in the property, things get a bit more complicated.

Off-site hosts are required to apply for a one-time variance to obtain a license, which will cost $1,400.

A special STRA committee will review the variance application — comprised of a minimum of three town councillors.

As with other variance applications, neighbours within a 100-metre radius of the STRA will be invited to address the committee with any concerns they may have. For instance, any prior noise complaints could be cited to deny the application.

While a host can appeal the committee’s ruling, it will set them back $500, and that decision is final and binding.

There is also a non-proliferation provision in the regulations. Only 150 STRA licences will granted in the municipality, and no STRA can be located within a 100-metre radius of an existing STRA. This effectively removes the problem of more than one STRA operating next to a resident’s dwelling.

Another innovative aspect of the bylaw is a Renter’s Code of Conduct, which is backed-up by a demerit point system.

The code is designed to “establish acceptable standards of behaviour for owners, hosts and renters to minimize any adverse impacts on their neighbours and neighbourhood.”

It restricts the maximum number of persons permitted in a licensed STRA to 12 and binds the renter and host to comply with existing bylaws governing noise, parking, garbage, open fires and fireworks – all concerns raised by residents opposed to STRAs

If the host or renter violates any of the terms of the license, including the Renter’s Code of Conduct, the host will receive demerit points, with a total of seven demerit points resulting in the suspension of the license.

For Roger Kellett, a long time Sutton resident who lives next to an Airbnb on Black River Rd, the STRA bylaw is long overdue.

“You have to know the rules if you want to protect or defend your property,” says Mr. Kellett, who’s had multiple confrontations with weekend Airbnb guests over noise, garbage and urination on his property.

“They could do whatever the hell they wanted because come Sunday afternoon they were going home anyway. They can leave the mess, the garbage, the irate residents, it didn’t matter to them.”

Although he’s frustrated with the two-year delay, he acknowledges that online platforms like Airbnb are hard to regulate.

“When people used to rent their cottage, it wasn’t a huge issue. It was advertised locally, or by word of mouth. If you owned a cottage, you rented to a family, friend or co-worker — somebody you knew,” says Mr. Kellett. “Now with Airbnb, you’re getting people from all over the world. So, there’s no way of really filtering your guests.”

However, not everyone is happy with the new STRA bylaw.

Jack Shen, a Toronto lawyer, has operated an Airbnb on Lake Drive for more than two-years. He hires a Keswick property manager to look after his rental and claims he’s never had a problem with guests.

While he plans to apply for a license, Mr. Shen says the Town’s bylaw is cumbersome, costly and unfair.

“I don’t know how the demerit point system is going to work, if it’s too subjective. It just takes one jealous neighbour who keeps calling to complain, and your license is suspended,” says Shen.

Although he acknowledges there are some bad apples, Mr. Shen believes most hosts are responsible, and the Airbnb platform is self-regulating. It’s in the best interest of hosts to select guests with good reviews, says Mr. Shen.

While the Town is hopeful that most hosts, like Mr. Shen, will seek a license, compliance may become an issue. If that’s the case, bylaw officers will have to track down illegal operators and fine them.

Town staff will monitor the compliance rate, enforcement costs and provide a status update to the council quarterly. It’s possible that the licensing fee structure or demerit system may change in the future. While many residents see the STRA bylaw as a good beginning, it is definitely a work in progress.

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