Nelson city council passed bylaws Monday night that would change zoning to allow its new rules for short-term rental operations.
They did this following a public hearing that invited residents affected by the proposed changes to state their concerns to council.
Mayor Deb Kozak stated that council had received two written submissions. Four people spoke in person at the hearing.
One of the speakers was Stephen Harris, the founder of the Short Term Rental Owners Association and the operator of an Airbnb. He spoke in favour of the changes.
“It’s a positive and proactive move by council to recognize this is a new reality in the economy and in travel,” he said.
He explained that the people who stay in his Airbnb are “mostly moms and dads, with two kids or grandma, and they stay for a week. They would not stay in a hotel.”
He had some advice for council: don’t use the new revenue from licence fees to hire an enforcement officer; this would not be needed because short-term rental operators will accept the changes.
“Think of this as windfall money. This is not something you have budgeted for,” he said. “Think about other priorities you have, what the money could be used for. Use it for something council really wants to do.”
He suggested reducing development costs for affordable housing projects as one possibility.
Another operator of an Airbnb told council that she was disappointed that the grandfathering of the $500 deposit as of January 1, 2016, did not apply to her because she applied for a licence a bit later in 2016 but before these rules came into effect.
Two other Airbnb owners also stated they are mostly in favour of the changes. One of them appealed for simplicity and low costs.
“Make it easy by not having exorbitant fees and costs,” he said. “People need to say, ‘This is simple, it is easy to comply.’”
The city’s focus on Airbnb and similar short-term rentals over the past year has stemmed from concerns that the 100-plus operators in Nelson are competing unfairly with hotels by operating without buying business licences, paying taxes, or complying with zoning. There were also concerns about safety standards and parking, and about the question of whether more short-term rentals results means fewer long-term rentals in a town with a near-zero rental vacancy rate.
The short-term rental rules
• An operator may only hold one licence per dwelling unit, plus one additional licence that is less than six months (either a summer licence or a 31-day licence). There is a maximum of 110 annual licences and 40 summer licences at any one time. Existing business licence holders have until Dec. 15 to reapply for the following year, otherwise they will be subject to the quotas. There are no quotas for the 31-day licences, but you can only have one per property per year.
• Application requirements include proof of property ownership, proof that the applicant is the principal resident (not required for summer licences), and one or two local contact people.
• Annual licence holders must pay the annual tourism fee to Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism that is currently paid by hotels (this is not required for summer or 31-day licences).
• New licensees must pay a $500 security deposit except grandfathered licences (grandfathered licences include any person or business that held a business licence valid prior to Jan. 1, 2016 and held a valid licence in 2016).
• Properties will be inspected every three years.
• Licences are not transferable in the event of the sale of the property, except for grandfathered licences.
• Licensees must maintain a guest registry with names, contact information and licence plate numbers, to be inspected by the city at any time.
• On all booking platforms, applicants must list their business licence number, the number of off-street parking spaces available to guests explicitly specifying that this number equals the maximum number of vehicles that paying guests of the property are permitted to bring, and maximum guest occupancy.
• The city will not grant more than three short-term licences (longer than 31 days) per block, which is understood to be the two sides of a single street that face one another.
• Fees are proposed to be $200 for an annual licence with one guest room, $350 for annual licence for two guest rooms, $450 for an annual licence three or more guest rooms,$800 for an annual licence for a guest home or guest suite, with a separate fee schedule for summer licences, and with reduced fees for people with an existing Bed and Breakfast licence. To all of those fees are added the $150 tourism fee (for annual licences only) and a possible building inspection fee of $30.
• Vehicle parking for short-term rental tenants or their guests will be restricted to the property and, where on-street parking is permitted, the portion of the road immediately adjacent to the property.
Kozak told the Star that Nelson’s short-term rental initiative has garnered great interest from other municipalities.
”They are particularly interested in how our bylaws will regulate these businesses. I think the collaborative process we employed has resulted in a solution that will provide balance and enhance the vibrancy and integrity of our community,” she said.