A Special Committee of the Whole Meeting was held on August 8th to discuss, amend, defer, or otherwise approve the newest iteration of the Short-Term Accommodation (STA) Bylaw. The bylaw will be coming back to council for approval on August 16th.
While the bylaw itself is set of rules, it is more than the sum of its parts, having a weighty influence on both the rights of STA owners and the rights of those who are affected by the housing crisis.
Some of the more contentious aspects of the bylaw include whether corporations have the right to own STAs versus an individual, fines, and whether Secondary Residence STA Licenses should only be granted to grandfathered STAs.
Several STA owners spoke to these and other issues before the committee began deliberating the particularities of the bylaw.
First to speak was Mike Amos, who pointed to ambiguity around grandfathered STAs rights and eligibility requirements, fines, and possible loopholes in the bylaw.
“When talking about partial primary residence STAs, the idea that you can’t be considered to be a primary resident unless you have a tax address tied to the county… that makes sense but it’s pretty easy for cheaters to have their mail sent here and have the post office forward that mail,” stated Amos. “Unless you can figure out how to stop people from doing that….and since you have unlimited licenses with no density requirements you could be fueling a fire you want to put out.”
In closing, Amos urged council to “stop punishing secondary owners”.
“I think we can do better. We need to provide more clarity for grandfathered owners around eligibility, because I don’t want to get into a legal battle with you guys over the planning act,” said Amos. “I think we need to stop punishing secondary owners. They rose to the challenge to provide much need accommodations for the hospitality sector.”
Wellington property owner, Anthony Lemkie, also spoke to council. Lemkie questioned the logic behind disallowing corporations from owning multiple STAs. Lemkie noted in his introduction that he also owns a couple of properties that are zoned and taxed commercially but that have residential use.
“There are many different ownership formats…joint ownership etc. I would ask that be altered so in commercial zones, short term accommodations can be run like a business, and you could own a couple of them because there isn’t that limit on ice cream shops or hotels. I’m curious what the rationale behind that would be in a commercially zoned property,” said Lemkie.
The first item from the bylaw to be discussed by the committee concerned the value of fines to be levied against STA owners who failed to post their license number on advertisements. Councillors were given the choice for fines to be either up to $400 or up to $4000.
“There may be a case to be made for a slightly lower fine for a first-time clerical error, but we’ve heard, on the other hand, from actual members of the Licensed Short Term Accommodators Association that, although the posting of license numbers is not to their liking, the fines are too low to have any meaningful effect on the operators,” stated Maynard. “I support the higher fine to make it an actual detriment and not just the size of a parking ticket in the county.”
Ultimately, the committee determined the fine should be up to $4,000.
Council also decided to increase fines for STAs operating without a license. Again, councillors were given the choice of settings fines of up to $8,0000 or up to $10,000.
Councillor Brad Nieman inquired as to whether unpaid fines could be levied against an individual’s taxes.
“Can the money be put toward their taxes if they don’t pay?” he asked.
Michael Michaud, Manager of Planning, confirmed that after sixty days the amount would be added to the individual’s property tax.
“There’s no excuse in this county to be operating without a license. Period,” added Maynard.
Perhaps the most discussed item from the bylaw was the right for corporations to operate multiple STAs. The bylaw states that, “for Commercially zoned STAs, a license can be issued to a corporation where a natural person is that corporation’s sole shareholder, director or executive.”
“I just wanted to make clear, when the original bylaw was being created in 2017/2018 there wasn’t this housing crisis and mixed-use housing can provide attainable housing, being close to amenities. Conversely, allowing STAs in commercial zones helps to advance the goals of happy neighbourhoods or neighbourhood compatibility…a healthy balance between helping with housing stock and trying to ensure people aren’t able to own multiple STAs,” said Emily Cowan, Director of Services, Programs and Initiatives.
Councillor Kate MacNaughton said she could not support the amendment to the bylaw, noting the importance of commercial properties in providing attainable housing.
“I can’t support the amendment. Dwellings above commercial properties typically are an excellent source of attainable housing for long term renters. As this is still a viable ancillary use of dwellings on commercial properties,” said MacNaughton. “I think a natural person is the right direction and there are alternatives for corporate owners.”
Ultimately, an amendment to allow commercially zoned STAs to be operated by a corporation was carried.
As with other issues that were brought up by multiple deputants, whether or not new secondary residence STAs (opposed to simply those that have been grandfathered) should be licensed was a topic of discussion among councillors.
MacNaughton noted this item was in line with the original impetus behind creating the STA bylaw.
“The whole purpose was to move in this direction. I see this as the only choice we can undertake and when we look at the study from McGill University, it did suggest this is exactly the way to go, aside form the impacts STAs have on communities, we should not be looking to incentivize second home purchasing with financial incentives like being able to increase affordability with rental fees that don’t relate to long term rentals. This is the one choice in line with the original motion from August 2020,” said MacNaughton.
Meanwhile, Councillor John Hirsch opposed banning new secondary residence STA licenses citing concerns about traditional cottage rentals.
“I disagree. I support the other option, and in this report, there’s a number of cautions staff brought to our attention if we were to cap secondary STAs and one is regarding some of these traditional cottage rentals that would be prevented from operating… I accept the cautions staff have presented,” said Hirsch.
For more information about the amended STA bylaw or to watch the Special Committee of the Whole Meeting, please visit: https://princeedwardcounty.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=2789