FOR THE GAZETTE
Changes to the current short-term accommodation bylaw brought forward concern surrounding potential risks to owners in Prince Edward County.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting, council discussed a bylaw change to better define types of short-term accommodations (STAs) that would make distinctions between bed and breakfast, owner-occupied and whole home locations with the goal to enforce regulations.
The staff report recommended council rescind the previous bylaw, which was enacted in 2019 and approve the new version.
Since the original STA bylaw was adopted 792 licensees have completed the licensing process and 180 are waiting for licenses. Of the 972, 69 per cent are whole-home STAs while 31 per cent are bed and breakfasts according to the report prepared by Community Programs Advisor Noah Lister-Stevens.
Davelle Morrison, president of the Licensed Short-Term Accommodators of Prince Edward County, warned council against the publishing of STA addresses, saying it will add fuel to the fire in light of the pandemic impact on residents.
“There are some rough waters out there. People are angry. You can see all the vitriol; all the fights happening on social media. People are not in a good space. There are a lot of negative things happening right now,” she said. “Adding fuel to the fire, to me, means allowing the demands of a few angry people to determine municipal policy.”
She also added it would incite those who are unlicensed STA owners to remain unlicensed.
“We are all licensed STA owners, we want to be licensed. We believe in licensing, we think licensing is a good thing, and we have all taken the time to do what we’re told,” she said. “Publishing our addresses publicly basically feels like we’re getting a slap in the face for following the rules and the people who have been skirting the rules this whole time are basically getting a pass.”
Publishing addresses also increases the risk to many marginalized communities Morrison stated, noting Airbnb data that indicates out of all owner-occupied STAs in the County, 67 per cent are women; 25 per cent are retirees and many are from the LGBTQS+ community.
Morrison offered some considerations in place of publishing addresses, again pointing to the Airbnb.com where addresses and phone numbers of locations are revealed only after bookings have been completed and paid for.
“The County could also consider masking the exact location in the way that Airbnb does. I understand that people need to have an idea of where the STAs are for density reasons, but it is possible to mask that so the exact location is not given away,” she explained.
Publishing STA address, she said, also increases the risk of harassment to owners and guests and increases the risk of vandalism in the off-season.
Several councillors challenged the comments surrounding crime and vandalism.
Coun. Bill Roberts referenced Lister-Stevens’ municipal report, saying staff had reached out to Hunstville and Niagara-on-the-Lake to inquire about their regularly-updated lists of licensed STAs, noting neither municipality had experienced threats or vandalism.
The report stated: “Staff was informed that there had been no reported threats, harassment or incidences of violence against STA owners in any way that could be tied to their presence on a map or list, nor could any obvious cases of this be found in other jurisdictions that have enacted STA-mapping services.”
Roberts added that the mapping service implemented in Hunstville is more comprehensive than the one proposed for the County, and includes names, numbers of approved rooms, expiry dates and phone numbers.
“Each market is very different,” Morrison responded. “Thievery and theft and vandalism is certainly out there. It is great that Hunstville hasn’t had that experience and it’s great that Niagara-on-the-lake hasn’t had that experience, but right now, Prince Edward County is experiencing that.”
Morrison referenced reading about a recent break and enter at the Tabersnack establishment in the County, and having heard about the rise in “porch pirates” who are stealing packages from the front stoops of homes.
Coun. Janice Maynard referred to statistics that pointed to break-ins having dropped 40 per cent year over year in the County.
Five STA owners and operators spoke to council, expressing their views on concern around privacy and potential vandalism and threats to their properties.
Local STA owner Debra Marshall said she disagrees vehemently with the publishing of addresses and personal identification for the sake of her safety given that she is typically alone in her business on any given day or night and has supervised unwanted visitors, such as ex-inmates, in the past.
“I believe this map is necessary, but only for appropriate use by our bylaw officers and police officers and anybody who is an emergency response person,” she said.
Whole-home STA owner Ari Cohen said many STA operators are also primary residents of the home they work in and shared he has been a victim of harassment in the past.
“My STA is very much a home and it’s my home and I do not want its address made public,” he said. “I don’t want to be subject to harassment. I certainly don’t want my female partner to be subject to threats or harassment when she’s there alone during times when I am away working for days or weeks at a time.”
He added on the other side, non owner-occupied STAs such as his are usually taken for days or weeks on end in the offseason.
“If a scandal or a thief were to have access to this mapping, it hands them these properties on a silver platter,” Cohen said.
“I need to only go on Airbnb, check the availability calendar, find a house that isn’t booked, get the address, and I’m on my way. There’s a good reason why Airbnb keeps these addresses private until booking and it’s to protect the owners and the property from potential harm,” he added.
Cohen said people with good intentions are unlikely to use the system and said it should be up to the County and bylaw officers to determine who the complaint is about, whether they are operating an STA and whether it is licensed or not.
Near the conclusion of the council meeting, a motion was passed to approve the Short Term Accommodation bylaw that defines and separates the types of STAs. The motion also rescinded and replaced the Municipal Short-Term Accommodation by type which allows lifting the STA licensing pause only for bed and breakfast and owner-occupied locations immediately, and extending the pause on whole-home STAs, effective June 22.
Council and staff did not continue the STA mapping discussion further. Chief Administrative Officer Marcia Wallace told council that the mapping is approximately one month away from being finalized and a report on the subject will come forward to council in July.