There are 79 short-term rental operators licenced with the City of Nelson this year, according to city planner Matt Kuziak. Fifty-nine of those are annual licences, and the rest have one-month or four-month terms.
This is the largest number since licensing started in 2017 when there were 54.
The city allows a maximum of 110 annual licences and 40 four-month licences.
A short-term rental is defined as the rental of accommodation for less than 30 days. The most prominent online platform for short-term rentals is Airbnb.
Kuziak doesn’t think there are many unlicensed short-term rentals flying under the city’s radar.
“We take enforcement really seriously,” he says, “and we’re really active about it. My best guess is that we’re really close to 100 per cent compliance.”
The city has a contract with the company Host Compliance to assist with enforcement.
Nelson started its licencing program in 2017 because of pressure from several directions.
Hotel owners complained that short-term rental operators were not paying sales tax to the province or the municipal and regional district tax.
Housing advocates contended that short-term rentals were cutting into the supply of long-term rentals. Others were concerned that too many short-term rentals would change the character of neighbourhoods.
Ryan Martin, general manager of the Hume Hotel, expressed some of those concerns at the time. Interviewed on July 14, he said the tax problem has been solved because the province now requires Airbnb to remit provincial sales taxes and the municipal and regional district tax for their rentals.
Whether the city’s regulations have preserved any long-term rentals is not possible to track, because it is unknown whether a given short-term rental property would otherwise have been rented out long term. Some suites have been constructed specifically to be short-term rentals and would not exist otherwise.
As for the character of neighbourhoods, the city’s short term rental policy specifies a maximum number of short-term rentals per block and it sets out rules about parking, guest registries, maximum guest occupancy, noise complaints, and renewals.
Applicants for a short-term rental licence in Nelson have to supply proof of ownership, proof that the property is the owner’s principal residence for at least half of the year, and proof of appropriate insurance. The property also must undergo a detailed safety inspection.
A list of all requirements can be found on the city’s short-term rental licence application form at https://bit.ly/3uS3I3U.
So far this year, Kuziak says, the city has collected $62,794 in licence fees, which he says go to the city’s planning budget including short-term rental administration and enforcement activities and to pay Host Compliance.
For anyone who wants to report an unlawful short-term rental, the city has a non-anonymous complaints line at https://bit.ly/3yMa3Pw. The city website has a map of all licenced short-term rentals at https://bit.ly/3o4w5Iq.
The B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch on its website states that evictions of long-term renters for the purpose of turning a suite into a short-term rental are not legal.
Nelson at the forefront
Kuziak says Nelson is in the forefront of municipalities bringing in short-term rental rules, and in the past year he has had several calls from planners from other cities looking for advice, and “complimenting the way we’ve done it and complimenting our enforcement and the regulations that we’ve put in place.”
The regulation of short-term rentals is also being discussed at the provincial level. Housing minister David Eby recently said he thinks short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb should be required to share data with municipalities so they can track exactly which properties are being rented.
In other words, for example, whenever a Nelson short-term rental operator signs up with Airbnb, Airbnb should give that information to city hall.
That suggestion was one of several in a joint report by the province and the Union of B.C. Municipalities on short-term rentals published in June, 2021. The report also recommended that:
• The province should take over the burden of regulating short-term rentals from municipalities, in the same way it regulates ride-hailing platforms such as Uber, because municipalities have less enforcement capacity.
• Platforms such as Airbnb should post their clients’ business licences on their websites.
• Platforms other than Airbnb (which now does collect taxes) should collect PST and municipal and regional taxes at the point of online booking.
• PST revenue should be made available to municipalities to offset impacts to housing and neighbourhoods.
Tourist accommodation downtown
A look at Airbnb’s accommodations map for Nelson will turn up a higher number of rental properties than the 79 that Kuziak cites. This is partly because it includes a different category of licence known as a tourism accommodation licence.
The city does not sell short-term rental licenses downtown, but it does sell tourist accommodation licences, which are similar to a hotel licence. A downtown property owner might rent out an apartment overlooking Baker Street with a tourist accommodation license but then also list it with Airbnb, thereby bumping up the Airbnb’s numbers for Nelson. The city currently has nine downtown tourist accommodation licences.