Amendments that would have banned short-term vacation rentals failed to win a majority around Sidney’s council table. (Black Press Media file photo)

Sidney won’t ban new short-term vacation rentals

Council divided evenly 3-3 on plans to ban short-term rentals

Existing rules around short-term rentals in Sidney prevail after councillors found themselves evenly divided over proposed amendments.

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Peter Wainwright and Scott Garnett in voting for the amendments, while Couns. Sara Duncan, Terri O’Keeffe and Chad Rintoul opposed the proposal. A tie vote means a motion fails. Among other consequences, the amendments would have prohibited new short term rentals anywhere in Sidney.

Council took up the issue after Wainwright raised the idea as way to help the local tourism industry.

Wainwright acknowledged some visitors to Sidney prefer short-term vacation rentals, but also said he expected the measure to be temporary, lasting perhaps up two years as the hotel industry recovers. “But I’m expecting that this would eventually be rolled back to the way that the zoning bylaw currently reads, with the exception to the [bed-and-breakfast] amendment that is being made,” he said.

Wainwright also stressed that amendments would have not affected existing short-term rentals. Sidney would still continue to have Airbnbs, he said. It would instead prevent new ones from emerging, he said, adding that it would also ease the job of bylaw enforcement to go after short-term rental operations that are currently not legal because they don’t conform to the bylaw.

“Anyone who is currently running a short-term vacation rental that is legal, that conforms to the current bylaw would be able to continue to do so, even if this amendment carries,” he said.

RELATED: Sidney councillor calls for ban of all short-term rentals

It didn’t, with opponents questioning the efficacy and intention of the amendments. O’Keeffe acknowledged that the pandemic has had a severe impact on the local industry. “But it’s not council’s role to favour one business model over another. Sidney relies on tourists, and we should be offering different types of accommodation.”

If the municipality wants to ensure a level playing field, it needs to step up enforcement, which “I know staff is working on,” said O’Keeffe later. “Also, the way to have a level playing field is for anybody who wants to rent out a couple of rooms in their house, is they go out and get a licence. It’s that simple.”

Perhaps more radically, she also proposed banning all short-term rentals as the bylaw currently defines them. “And I would add to that basement suites, which are currently allowed. So I would get rid of those. But I’m still in favour of allowing bed-and-breakfasts, because they don’t have an impact on our affordable housing supply.”

Ultimately, O’Keeffe said she is more concerned about the negative impacts of short-term rentals, in the form of condos, townhouses and basement suites, on the supply of affordable housing, than the hotel industry.

The question of short-term vacation rentals has long vexed municipalities, as McNeil-Smith said. Historically, short-term vacation rentals do not play by the same rules as familiar tourism operations.

“It’s not a level playing field, because it is still a residential property. They are not licensed, they are not inspected, and they are not paying commercial taxes for running a business,” he said.

McNeil-Smith told the Peninsula News Review in a follow up email, that council last year passed a motion for staff to increase the level of bylaw enforcement for illegal short term rentals. “Those efforts have recently been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff anticipate increasing the enforcement measures in the coming months and bringing a report back to [council].”

Garnett said short-term vacation rentals not only hurt hotels as competitors, but also make it more difficult for hotel employees to find affordable housing.

Rintoul said he is sympathetic toward the local hotel operators, but argued that the proposed amendment would have tipped the scales too far in the other direction.

“The suggestion that this may be temporary in nature and that this council or a future council may revisit the bylaw amendment is probably cold comfort to the residents, who have expressed concerns with this,” he said. “If we were really looking to level that playing field, we may take the approach that Coun. O’Keeffe had sort of summarized around some enforcement, the business licensing and perhaps even looking at some form of taxation for short-term rentals that are yielding and generating revenue, but not putting an outright end to them, recognizing the grandfathering scenario that Coun. Wainwright well described.”


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