Revamped Short Term Accommodation Bylaw approved by council

(Gazette file photo)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

Prince Edward County Council approved a new STA Bylaw during the September 20th Regular Council Meeting. The approval comes after several heated discussions, including input from the public and members of the licensed short term accommodation association.

The new bylaw was first tabled in May of this year and has since undergone several permutations.

In speaking to council, Director of Community Programs, Services and Initiatives, Emily Cowan, reviewed council’s directive to staff regarding the bylaw voiced during the August 8th meeting.

For clarification, Cowan reiterated the definition of primary and secondary residences as they pertain to the bylaw.

A primary residence has two categories, one wherein the host is on site year-round and the other wherein the host is onsite except for 45 days of the year, during which time they’re able to rent out their residence as a short- term accommodation.

As the name suggests, a secondary residence is that which is not the property owner’s primary residence. There are no limitations to a secondary STA, as long as the primary owner resides on the property.

“As per council, there will be no more of these licenses issued after the bylaw goes into effect, however those already in the system will be processed,” noted Cowan. “Grandfathered STAs can continue to be licensed, renewed and someone who buys one can apply for a new license as long as they comply with certain standards.”

As per Cowan, any secondary STA that was licensed prior to September 13, 2022 has legal non-conforming status or, in other words, is grandfathered.

Cowan also made sure to note there are no changes being made to Bed and Breakfast operations due to this bylaw. They have their own license category.

Changes to the bylaw that drew public comment include changes to fines levied against those who are illegally operating (i.e. without a license), those who advertise an STA without a license and those who fail to display an STA license number on advertisements.

“The fines contained in the draft bylaw are based on council’s direction,” said Cowan. “We’ve edited this to make them reflect council’s intention at the August 8th meeting.”

Mike Amos of the Licensed Short Term Accommodation Association (LSTA) voiced concern about fines outlined within the bylaw, referring to them as “punitive”. In particular, Amos took offence to the schedule of fines to be levied against those who fail to advertise their STA license number on advertising.

“I know in Prince Edward County we have a proclivity to slap fines on people, but in this case a $1,000 fine seems incredibly punitive. We built a byzantine labyrinth of laws around STAs…it seems to me we owe it to our owners and residents to properly educate people on what’s happening and, when it finally is ratified, we owe it to them to be duly diligent to communicate the changes so they can comply,” said Amos. “In this case, I think a $,1000 fine for an administrative error seems incredibly punitive. We will be giving unlimited licenses to our residents, not just evil Torontonians. Do you really think $1,000 is the right fine for this simple administrative error? I don’t think it is and I think you need to change it.”

 

The issue of fines was also a topic brought forward by Councillors Andreas Bolik and Kate MacNaughton.

“The fine chart caught my eye…We don’t want to penalize the people who have a license but have failed to display it through some sort of administrative glitch. So, the question is, how much latitude do enforcement people have? Obviously, there is discretion should you lay a charge. If it looks like an administrative error, how tightly are we going to enforce this?”

County staff commented that staff would follow the bylaw and there would not be much latitude involved.

“This has been an extraordinary path. I still have remaining details of concern. One concern I share with Bolik in that we shouldn’t be penalizing people who are trying to do the right thing by being licensed, council did decide at an earlier meeting to boost that amount upward for failing to post license numbers,” MacNaughton commented.

Mayor Steve Ferguson also expressed concern about the high fines.

“I must say, in looking at the fines again, the failure to display an STA license number does strike me now as being a little higher than warrants for something that could effectively be a clerical error out of control of the person placing the add,” he said.

Ultimately, MacNaughton put forward a motion to reconsider the fine schedule and to reduce the first fine to $250.00 while maintaining the amounts for second and third offences. Second offence for advertising an STA without a license number displayed is $2,000 while the third offence is $4,000.

This motion failed, with the fine schedule remaining as presented to council.