A new bylaw that came into effect last week will make operating a short-term rental more challenging than simply signing up for an Airbnb account and posting a few photos of your property.
A tourist accommodation review bylaw recently adopted by the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) now requires anyone marketing or providing accommodation in a nightly vacation rental to have a business licence. Those found marketing or operating nightly rentals in properties that aren’t properly zoned could face fines of up to $1,000 per day.
According to Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden, the bylaw is being implemented as a tool to help the RMOW better manage illegal nightly rentals in residential areas — a trend that has contributed to the lack of available housing in Whistler in recent years.
“It’s really those people who have been self-managing their units that will have to get business licences now; this will be a new requirement for them,” she said. “Of course people who have been operating nightly rentals in residential areas where they don’t have proper zoning, they won’t be able to obtain a business licence. That’s really the whole point.”
So far, Wilhelm-Morden said that although “only a handful” of licences have been granted, community feedback has largely been in favour of the move.
“We’ve received a number of positive comments,” she said. “We know that people in the neighbourhoods know there are illegal nightly rentals going on, (so) they’re happy to see that we’ve got this tool that will assist us now with enforcement.”
Although Airbnb, one of the most prominent online marketplaces for nightly rentals, supports regulations such as business licences, Alex Dagg, Airbnb’s manager of public policy for Canada, said the home sharing site remains focused on protecting its hosts.
“We think regulations should be fair and easy to follow for our host community. There are a number of communities that have implemented licensing or registration systems, so that’s not new.
Our main priority is that we want to be able to protect our hosts and our home sharing community so that they can be able to continue sharing their home,” Dagg explained, adding that Whistlerites using Airbnb typically only share their home about 40 nights a year.
“There are some areas in Whistler with zoning where, with home sharing, there’s not a clear path to do it, and that’s a concern we have,” she continued. “Home sharing has become an economic lifeline for thousands of families, and has allowed them to share their home from time to time and maybe afford a place in Whistler, which, as we know, is a super expensive place to stay and live. Home sharing can be a real affordability strategy for a number of families, so we feel strongly about ensuring that people can continue to do that.”
The bylaw will cost property owners $165 annually, as well as an extra $10 per each additional accommodation unit operated by the same owner. (The fee will be prorated for 2017).
The Hotel Association of Whistler is on board with the new regulations as well, said association president Saad Hasan. “(The association) supports the bylaw in the interest of a fair and equitable system of governance, in the sense that we know people who have business licenses, who have the right zoning and we’ve always maintained that support,” he said. “We’ve said that if people have the right zoning, the right licenses and they’re collecting the right taxes, then of course they should get all the support we can offer them.”
In terms of curbing illegal nightly rentals, “people will do what they want to do, but the reality is that the municipality is taking a very firm and strong step in the right direction, which is very helpful because it sets the tone,” said Hasan, noting an improved element of monitoring guest experiences, as well. “We believe it will be helpful to the resort community as a whole, including people who are looking for long-term rentals.”