LETTER: Short term rentals have social implications

There is much more to the question of short term rentals than just cracking down on illegal businesses.

Re: “Nelson to explore Airbnb regulation”

There is much more to the question of short term rentals than just cracking down on illegal businesses. There is a larger issue about the social value of housing and the authority of the city to define desirable uses.

Nelson’s goals are outlined in the official community plan. The OCP is a city bylaw and it provides clear direction with respect to the value of housing and other aspects that relate to short term rentals, including neighbourhood zoning and the healthy supply of long term rental units. And yet here we are, on one hand desperate to bring on new rental housing units to fix a known supply problem, while at the same time watching dozens of units disappear into illegal short term rentals without taking action.

We need to ask ourselves, “Just because changing technology has made it easy to turn our homes in short term rentals, is that a sufficient reason to begin changing our laws?” Should a new technology be allowed to undermine the community values and principles that were thoughtfully crafted in the OCP and written into law? One wonders what other community value we might give up when the next disruptive technology comes around. When must we reasonably change our community values to suit a new technology? Specifically, what reasons are good enough?

This question goes directly to which we value more: individual rights or community values. I don’t believe that the personal profit of a few dozen homeowners in an inflated real-estate market ought to be sufficient to trump the social values of a 130-year-old community of 10,000 souls.

One thing we can do to create and sustain a healthy stock of rental housing in Nelson is to enforce sufficient barriers to entry for short term rentals that some meaningful percentage of owners decide instead to turn their spaces into long term rentals. Today, a person who might face a lot of red tape turning their basement or shed into a legal secondary suite can instead turn it into a short term rental with no improvements and potentially even make more money per month! That’s a crazy distortion of the values we express when we demand a minimum standard for legal accommodations.

Short term rentals should only be allowed as a secondary use of the residence. I just heard about a person in Vancouver who is running 40 houses as Airbnb (and owns none of them). I know there are a couple people in Nelson also running several houses. Clearly that is a tourist accommodation business. It should not even be allowed for a single occupant to employ all the other rooms in their home as short term rentals rentals; that is just as clearly a B&B.

Short term rentals should not be allowed in free-standing units (either detached or condo). Like ride-sharing, room-sharing is an excellent use of the sharing economy. But renting out an entire unit for profit is a vacation rental business, just like a full-time Uber is a taxi. It needs to be treated like any other vacation rental business.

Room-sharing should be a permitted use, just like sub-letting or house-sitting or home-swapping. Once it becomes a larger for-profit enterprise, it’s a business. More importantly, I don’t see any compelling reason why Nelson residents should entertain wholesale change to our neighbourhood zoning restrictions just to accommodate a few rogue businesses and white-knuckled landowners.

Kevin Megale, Nelson

 

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