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District of North Van debates legalizing short-term rentals

There are more than 600 rentals operating on sites like Airbnb in the district today, 80 per cent of which are for entire homes
On Monday night District of North Vancouver council debated whether to legalize short-term rentals like Airbnb. | Kamloops Matters files

There are more than 600 illegal short-term rental suites operating in the District of North Vancouver, and council members are turning their minds to what, if anything, ought to be done about them.

Short-term rentals aren’t permitted under the district’s bylaws, but a consultant hired to scrape data from Airbnb and short-term booking websites owned by Expedia, Priceline and TripAdvisor found 653 listings in January.

Of those, 85 per cent were listings for an entire home. Almost 80 per cent were within single-family residences, while nine per cent were in condos. The remaining 12 per cent were listed as “unknown” housing types.

Currently, the district only pursues enforcement for short-term rentals when a neighbour calls to complain about one. In 2022, there were 28 such calls, and 12 so far in 2023. Bylaw officers issued nine $500 bylaw infraction notices last year.

Council members met as a committee Monday to discuss options that would give short-term rental operators a path to legalization while giving staff a means to go after anyone flouting the bylaw.

In all of the hypothetical legalization scenarios, district staff said STRs would only be permitted in homes that are the principal residence of the host.

“It’s intended to help ensure that residential units are not used exclusively as short-term rentals. In practice, this means that residents would only be able to rent their entire unit when they’re not home or on vacation, or they could rent a portion of their home at any time when they are in their homes,” district planner Ryan Gilmore told council.

Beyond that, the regulatory regime could involve business licensing, rules on what types of housing STRs would be allowed in, caps on the number of nights per year an STR may be available or caps on the number of licences that would be granted, parking requirements, emergency contacts and safety standards, and new fines and enforcement tools.

A survey conducted by the district found 61 per cent approval for allowing STRs within the main portion of single-family homes, but respondents were divided on whether they should be allowed in secondary suites and coach houses.

The most common concerns raised by people responding to the survey were the STRs taking up what would otherwise be long-term rentals available to local workers, as well as neighbourhood impacts like noise and parking disputes.

Council members also appeared divided on what approach the district should take.

Coun. Lisa Muri cautioned her fellow council members against creating complex bylaws with little ability to enforce them, while forgetting about the housing crisis.

“We’re not managing a hotel…. I don’t want anything to do with that. But I do want to preserve housing for people that work here and want to live here and that should be our primary focus,” she said. “I don’t think we should be allowing whole houses to be taken over by somebody that bought so they can be a hotelier.”

On the other hand, short-term rentals do support tourism, which boosts the local economy, Coun. Herman Mah noted.

As evidenced by the plethora of listings online, prohibition was simply not working, Coun. Jim Hanson said. Hanson said he would like to see short-term rentals permitted but then taxed heavily, with the proceeds going to the district’s affordable housing fund.

“I think, in the end, that’s going to do more to protect housing stock and create affordable housing then a scheme that just turns a blind eye and creates really what is a phony prohibition, and then allows it to carry on without the district getting its fair share,” he said.

Before each council member could get a chance to weigh in, the debate had to be cut short when council ran out of time. Mayor Mike Little told council they could pick up where they left off at a later date.

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