Victoria council took a decisive step in regulating short term rentals Thursday in hopes of freeing units to replenish the city’s depleted rental housing stock.
Council passed a bylaw amendment Thursday evening to remove short term rentals (STRs) from acceptable land use in transient zones, most of which are located in the downtown core. Those currently operating legal STRs in transient zones with business licences will be grandfathered in, and those renting one or two bedrooms out of a primary residence with a business licence, in all zones, will be permitted.
Victoria council chambers buzzed with the sounds of applause from opponents to the council’s proposed zoning bylaw at the public hearing, to the admonition of Coun. Marianne Alto and Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe.
But Coun. Ben Isitt said he was happy the bylaw amendment was adopted because it begins to address Victoria’s low vacancy rate.
“I think we need these units for housing, and that’s more important in my opinion than having these units used for commercial purpose of transient accommodation,” he said.
Although the bylaw amendment is now in effect, those hoping to find a quick resolution to the housing shortage may find slow relief. The City is now working on a draft regulatory framework to enforce STR bylaws, but those won’t come into effect until early 2018.
At committee of the whole, city staff recommended STRs be permitted only if two criteria are met: 1) the rental is in a person’s principle residence, and 2) they have a business licence. Owners would be allowed to rent their house when they are away on vacation, for example. The same use would be allowed with letter of permission from strata council if in a strata property, or from the landlord if in a rental property. Fees would range from $200 to $2500 per year depending on the type of rental, and operators would be required to display the business licence number in all listings.
In the meantime, Isitt said he hopes those currently operating STRs will start moving toward housing long-term tenants before the enforcement strategy comes into effect.
“The zoning regulations that were changed last night wont have a huge impact on anyone, but what it will do is in the longer term it will return those buildings to their intended residential use,” he said.
“I hope more and more owners will make that decision and decide no longer to rent their units on a short-term basis.”
The new STR framework would cost taxpayers around $512, 000, a cost not currently accounted for in the city’s budget, but one staff hopes will be offset by collecting fines and business licensing fees.