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Victoria council rejects mayor’s push to delay B.C.’s short-term rental rule

Mayor Marianne Alto wanted province to halt Bill 35’s implementation until November
Victoria will not be asking the province to delay the implementation of its new short-term rental legislation after councillors voted against the mayor’s call. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)

Victoria council on Thursday shot down the mayor’s attempt to seek a delay from the province’s crackdown on short-term rentals.

In a 5-3 vote, councillors rejected Mayor Marianne Alto’s motion that asked the province to delay the implementation of Bill 35 until November. That legislation comes into effect on May 1 and aims to stem the growing wave of homes being used as short-term rentals, through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

Victoria council has been lobbied by property owners ever since to push against and water down the new rules.

Alto on March 14 said part of why she pursued the delay was because, while council has supported housing initiatives thus far in its term, an aspect of their job is “to look for balance” when responding to residents’ competing interests.

The push for a delay comes after councillors were told last summer that hundreds of short-term rental operators were skirting the city’s regulations through a number of creative tactics, and many weren’t getting their required licences. On Thursday, city staff characterized their experience of enforcing short-term operators by saying they see a “high volume of non-compliance.”

Coun. Stephen Hammond, who sponsored Alto’s motion, said Bill 35 would impact tourism if the May 1 date remained in place and argued the legislation was “pulling the rug out from under” law-abiding short-term rental operators. Coun. Marg Gardiner, who supported the motion alongside its sponsors, said owners are facing “diminished property rights” and the delay would give them more breathing room.

While Victoria already had a short-term rental bylaw, the provincial legislation impacts around 1,600 legal non-conforming units in the city. Legal non-conforming units are mainly condos in buildings that had grandfathered-in exemptions from the bylaw – allowing them to enter the short-term market at any time unless the province amended its legislation.

Councillors opposing the motion said they had to side with those struggling to access housing in the city, which consistently ranks as one of the country’s tightest and most expensive rental markets.

“We need to prioritize people over business,” Coun. Krista Loughton said, adding far too many operators were abusing the existing system.

Coun. Matt Dell noted the majority on council ran on tackling the housing crisis in the last election and voters sent them to city hall to do just that. Supporting the motion would therefore send a strange signal to residents, he said.

“I was elected here to support housing for locals, for students.”

The summer is an extremely important time as student leases tend to begin between May and September, the Univeristy of Victoria Students’ Society told this paper.

“By delaying the implementation of BC’s new legislation until November, the city of Victoria restricts potentially available housing to students,” the society said. “This limits our options — increasing prices, and potentially trapping renters in a bad situation, or even pushing them out of the housing market entirely.”

“We are struggling for housing, and we cannot wait until a more convenient season to begin making the necessary changes.”

Even if the motion was successful, B.C.’s housing minister signalled the province wouldn’t support a delay as he said most people would ask why initiating the new regulations was taking so long.

“People are struggling and we need to make sure that housing is available for people right away in our communities,” Ravi Kahlon said on March 13 when asked about the motion.

“We desperately need to provide more housing opportunities so we can attract the health-care workers, the teachers, the firefighters that we all need in our communities.”

Responding to the new short-term rental measures after they were announced, Victoria’s main tourism agency said it supported the legislation because new hotels are in the works and the accommodation sector can manage the volume of visitors without short-term rentals.

“Commercial transient accommodation is for travellers. Housing is for homes,” Destination Greater Victoria CEO Paul Nursey said in an October statement to this paper.

READ: Housing minister balks at Victoria mayor’s push for short-term rental rule delay

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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