By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The City of Oshawa is one step closer to creating a licensing system for short-term rentals such as AirBnB listings.
At the Sept. 10 corporate services meeting, committee members made several recommendations for council’s approval.
These include directing city staff to begin a process to consult with the public and rental industry stakeholders, and develop the creation of a new business licensing class to regulate short-term rentals.
As reported in The Oshawa Express, movement on the issue began last December after the committee receive a letter from an Oshawa resident.
“In a few short weeks, what was a peaceful neighbourhood, has become a nightmare. The uncertainty of what each night will bring has caused an enormous amount of stress on the neighbourhood, but mostly to the homes on either side,” resident Elizabeth Anderson wrote in a letter to the committee. “Already, there have been many sleepless nights, late night parties, numerous cars and guests, people in and out, and men urinating on the driveway.
At the latest committee meeting, city staff provided an update on some initial information found about short-term rentals in Oshawa.
According to Erinn McLean, city policy and research analyst, there were 113 short-term rental listings in the city in July, most in single-unit homes.
“These numbers fluctuate and may have increased or decreased since,” McLean says, adding that AirBnB has the “lion’s share” of the rentals.
“That’s not to say other companies are not operating here,” she says.
Since October 2016, the city has received 17 complaints regarding short-term rentals.
City manager of policy and research Kenneth Man says these complaints range from land-use issues, parking, noise and lawn maintenance concerns.
He adds they are spread across the city and not concentrated in one specific area.
“The level of complaints is not as salient as other municipalities,” Man said.
Man and McLean noted there are both benefits and negatives to the short-term rental market.
They can serve as an income-supplement for residents and also offer affordable options for visitors from out of town.
On the flip side, Man says problems can be tied to nuisances, noise, parking, waste and the possibility of creating “party houses.”
The city’s zoning laws currently address short-term rentals, but according to a staff report “does not regulate the operator of that business in terms of compliance with minimum acceptable health, safety and community standards.”
Staff believe a licensing system would put the onus on operators to ensure “that the business activity is minimizing disruption within the neighbourhood and is being managed in compliance with all City standards.”
In addition, it would create a sense of “good standing” for the industry in the community and with consumers.
Councillor John Neal said he believes a number of short-term rentals are listed by people who do not live in Oshawa, and “have no idea of City of Oshawa rules.”
Neal says there are a “ton of things a private resident has to take under consideration” when entering into the short-term rental market.
According to Man, the plan would be to give licenses only to operators who have their primary residence in Oshawa, whether it be a home or an apartment.
“A lot of the issues are related to commercial operators. You could take control of these nuisance and party-related issues,” he said.
Councillor Gail Bates questioned whether these rental units would be subject to routine inspections, stating it would be “important for safety and insurance reasons.”
Man said he does not know of any municipalities that require routine inspections of rental units, or background checks for operators. But he said these aspects could be considered as part of the licensing system.
In regards to a potential cost of the license, no figures have been determined but Man says an annual fee would be likely.
“We’d like to be looking for full-cost recovery.”
Councillor Amy McQuaid-England questioned the need for the system.
Particularly, she believes the city has fielded plenty of complaints from full-time city renters “who live in unsafe, unhealthy housing” but have failed to act.
She pointed specifically to council voting against a plan to institute a city-wide licensing system for rental units.
Currently, the city only has such a system in areas near Durham College and UOIT.
McQuaid-England called short-term licensing system “a political ploy so certain residents don’t have to have parties in their neighbourhoods.”
“For this committee to say yes to this…I am disturbed by the priority this community is going to give to short-term rentals,” she added. “You really need to give your head a shake.”
Councillor Doug Sanders says he shares McQuaid-England’s concerns about the state of rental units, but says he feels this situation is “totally different.”
“People are looking for accommodations. It’s an economic benefit [to the operators],” he said. “I’ve got to support it only for the economic benefit.”
For Councillor John Shields, who was sitting in on the meeting, he believes the city is “trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Some further research will be required and then the public consultation process can begin, Man explained.
Potential consulters will include residents, short-term rental hosts, rental platforms operators, and those in the bed-and-breakfast, hotel and motel industries.
Man noted that neighbouring municipalities such as the towns of Whitby and Ajax, and Municipality of Clarington are not currently looking into a licensing system.
The plan at this moment is to have a potential system in place for approval sometime in 2019.