Downtown condo owners split on short-term vacation rentals

Council still exploring options to regulate the rentals

A city map shows the areas permitting transient accommodation

A city map shows the areas permitting transient accommodation

In the hallway of her downtown Victoria condo building, Kaela Schramm regularly sees new faces.

About four or five of the 15 units on her floor are used for short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) tgat mainly cater to temporary workers and the odd family. But seeing a string of new faces every week or two doesn’t bother Schramm.

“Unless there’s a problem, why would it bother me there’s a different face in the hallway?” said Schramm, noting about six or seven condos in the 30-unit building are used for STVRs.

“I think for some people (living in other downtown condos with STVRs) there’s perhaps people on vacation that were maybe loud or some negative impacts, but for us there just hasn’t been.”

As the co-chair of the Downtown Victoria Residents Association, Schramm has heard a variety of comments about STVRs and residents are split on the issue. Some enjoy the variety of people passing through and are concerned if the city regulates STVRs, it would have a negative impact on those interested in having that option.

Others are strongly opposed, with one resident collecting 1,110 signatures through a petition that’s calling on the city to prohibit vacation rentals used as alternative hotel accommodation in all neighbourhoods.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young has also heard from a number of downtown condo residents who feel their building is turning into a hotel, with people arriving late at night, making noise, not knowing where to go or the rules of the building.

“I find that argument to be a persuasive one and I think we should do what we can to address it,” said Young during a discussion on the matter Thursday. “We have received communications within the same building on opposite sides of this issue. There will have to be discussions within the buildings around the direction they want to go and I think there will be different decisions in different buildings.”

Vacation rentals for downtown condos are permitted in certain zones, but the city is trying to develop policy guidelines and regulations to prevent the loss of long-term rental units. An October report to council determined the impacts of STVRs on the rental housing market in Victoria are not fully understood, and there are complex considerations associated with zoning rights and enforcement that could result in unintended consequences should council outright prohibit them.

City officials recommend enforcing existing zoning regulations along with an uptake of business licenses in order to monitor the situation and collect data for further policy decisions at a later debate.

The issue has been discussed in more depth since then, with councillors further debating the matter Thursday, only to direct staff to provide additional information for a final report in April.

Officials noted there’s nothing stopping strata councils from coming forward with a rezoning application, but there must be a 100 per cent commitment — something Young noted is unlikely to occur. If there was a business licence and some level of enforcement, officials believe the number of STVRs would likely decrease. Enforcement of properties that don’t comply with regulations, however, would be difficult and complicated.

Council agreed to further explore what tools are available to limit the number of STVRs where they are currently allowed, along with the option of having an opt in-mechanism for a city initiated rezoning to prohibit transient accommodation as a permitted use, where the majority of downtown condos want it done.

“I think there’s a sizable body of opinions from downtown residents that want to move in this direction,” said Coun. Ben Isitt. “There’s a need for action. I am persuaded by the residents who say I don’t want to live in a hotel. It’s up to council to decide, do we want our downtown condos to become hotels or do we want them to be vibrant, residential buildings, which I think is the vision council had when it approved all of this rezoning.”

Staff estimate there are between 200 and 300 STVRs, a majority of which are located in the downtown core and adjacent portions of Fairfield and James Bay.