Debra Sheets stands in front of The Janion building at Wharf Street and Pandora Avenue, where she uses her condominium for short-term rentals. Lauren Boothby/VICTORIA NEWS

Victoria short-term rental operators start GoFundMe campaign for legal costs

Facebook group mounting defence against proposed vacation rental rules

Short-term rental operators are getting ready for battle as the City of Victoria ramps up efforts to regulate the industry.

The Greater Victoria Short Term Rental Alliance, a Facebook group of vacation rental owners and businesses, has started a GoFundMe page with the hopes of creating a legal defence fund to dispute regulations proposed by the city.

A lawyer hired by one of the owners said those challenges could include business licence refusals, perceived high licensing fees, and the prevention of using pre-bought condos for short-term rentals (STRs), in transient accommodation zones that previously allowed them.

The fund had raised $4,350 of its $20,000 goal by press deadline.

Related: Draft short term rental bylaw considered in Victoria

John O’Brien and his partner own both long- and short-term rental properties and have donated to the defence fund. Although his properties are located outside the City’s transient zones – such business operations are not allowed in residential neighbourhoods – he thinks city council should take another look at the regulations.

“I don’t have an adequate pension. If I cannot hang on to my properties, I worry for my old age,” he said.

Related: Facebook group advocates for short term rental owners in Greater Victoria

Debra Sheets has a business licence for her STR unit in The Janion building, which lies in a transient zone. She’s concerned about the licensing fee potentially being as high as $2,500, which is significantly higher than the $110 she paid this year.

“I feel that’s completely and ridiculously unfair,” she said, adding that she would support a legal challenge to the fee. “I’m not doing anything illegal … that’s a lot of income to lose every year, not to mention that it’s decimated the value of my unit.”

Last month, council decided to reconsider the fee amount. Even if the licence fee were lowered, Sheets said, she would support legal challenges from other STR owners.

In September, a bylaw amendment removed STR as a permitted land use in transient zones.

The City is reviewing draft regulations for properties outside those zones that would limit rentals to one or two bedrooms in a primary residence, or to whole units temporarily while the permanent residents are away.

Coun. Geoff Young said he understands the concerns property owners in transient zones have about the licensing fees. While owners outside the transient zones may also be concerned, he said council wants these properties to return to the long-term rental market.

“Many people have concerns that they won’t be allowed to continue [short-term rentals], but in fact, they aren’t allowed to do it now,” he said. “You are not allowed in a normal residential neighbourhood outside the transient zone to rent out a house or a whole carriage house or a whole suite.”

Owners may operate bed and breakfasts using rooms in a home, but that’s the only transient accommodation use allowed, he added.

“Other than that, you should be renting units under the Residential Tenancy Act, [for] at least a month.”

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