Saturday, 22 September 2018

Letter: Proposed Bylaw Amendments to Allow STVRs in Sidney

On Monday, September 24th, Council will be providing a public hearing to listen to input regarding proposed amendments to the Zoning Bylaw to allow regulation of Short Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs) in Sidney. Currently, STVRs are all illegal in Sidney, but several dozen exist, provoking concerns that short term rental of housing is displacing potential long term rentals within our extremely low vacancy rate rental market. Some complaints from neighbours have also been received by Sidney's bylaw enforcment office regarding noise, parking conflicts and security concerns at some STVR locations.

As a resident concerned about availability of rental housing, and as someone whose income partially depends on the tourist segment who appear to prefer STVRs and Bed and Breakfasts for their stay in Sidney, I provided a letter to Council to support the proposed bylaw amendments.

The notice of public hearing, proposed bylaw amendment and staff reports related to the amendment are here.

Note: My letter below contains a comment for clarification to staff, and I received a response that I feel fully satisfied my question, which I have also provided below my letter.

Mayor and Council,

I appreciate the research and recommendations by staff for the proposed amendments to the Zoning Bylaw to regulate STVRs in light of the shortage of long term rental housing in Sidney. I agree with the recommended amendments put forth.

I am not clear, however, on why staff did not also recommending pursuing the “fairly minimal” changes to the Business Licence Bylaw to include STVRs. As worded in the February 27, 2018 report to Council, it appears to me that the rationale is because the considered change was to include STVRs in the definition of Bed and Breakfasts, which would require them to meet the same BC Building Code requirements for fire safety, etc., and would require increased inspections and Town staff resources. I believe a change to include STVRS in the Business Licence Bylaw should be pursued, as it would help to level the playing field with licenced commercial accommodations in Sidney, and allow for easier tracking and reporting of non-compliant or nuisance STVRs, with providers needing to include their business licence number in their listing (e.g. Victoria’s model). The business licence fee for home occupations and bed and breakfasts in Sidney is low, and therefore should not be prohibitive for people who are using STVRs as mortgage helpers.

I ask that Council seek further clarification on why staff did not believe a change to the Business Licence Bylaw was feasible at this time; if the rationale was due to the increased burden for inspection for the BC Building Code requirement, I would ask if it would be possible to follow the model used in Penticton, for example, whereby the applicant must simply sign a waiver stating that to the best of the homeowner’s knowledge their home meets the BC Building Code (hopefully they will be confident of this, as they will have had a home inspection before they bought the house), and inspections are not necessarily triggered automatically with a business licence application, but would instead continue to be driven by complaints. Such an amendment would also increase assurances of safety for potential STVR clients.

Response from Corey Newcomb, Acting Manager of Planning, clarifying why staff did not recommend changes to the Business Licence Bylaw:

Thank you for your email to Mayor and Council regarding the proposed STR bylaw. While your email will be forwarded to Mayor and Council for their consideration, for your information I wanted to address the items you raised.

Staff have in fact reviewed the Business Licence Bylaw (BLB) in relation to the proposed STR amendment and concluded that there are no amendments necessary at this time. The initial review of the BLB back in early 2018 highlighted the fact that licensing regulations related to Bed and Breakfasts are fairly sparse; as a result staff were concerned about potential confusion between Bed and Breakfasts and STR, as there may be a slight overlap in these uses. However, subsequent development of the proposed STR regulations and a review of how business licences for Bed and Breakfasts are issued highlighted the fact that no immediate changes to the BLB are necessary. That being said, staff intend to monitor the BLB as the STR regulations come into play and respond with amendments as necessary.

As to safety, under the proposed bylaw STR will only be permitted in two circumstances in Sidney: (1) where the patrons are guests in someone’s home (i.e. they stay in extra bedrooms in the same dwelling unit) or (2) in a secondary suite in a home. The BC Building Code’s requirements are primarily concerned with fire spread between units; in the case of (1) above, all occupants are in the same unit and there is no code issue. In the case of (2) a secondary suite is only considered a secondary suite if it has been inspected for Building Code compliance, so all code requirements in the latter case would have been met if the building inspectors signed off on the unit. If the secondary unit has not been inspected or received an occupancy permit, then it is an illegal dwelling and would be subject to bylaw enforcement, regardless of how it is being used.

In other words, a safety concern exists only where there is a second dwelling unit in a building that does not have proper fire protection (i.e. an illegal dwelling unit); the only situation where a secondary unit would be permitted to be used for STR is if it is a legal secondary suite – as such it would already meet the BC Building Code’s fire safety requirements.

I hope this email helps to clarify your questions posed to Council. Please feel free to follow up with me if you require further information.