Tofino's district office says raising the rates for vacation rental licences would help pay for a crackdown on non-licence holders.

Tofino considers raising Vacation Rental fees to fund crack down

“You’re asking people that were obeying the bylaws to pay for enforcement that you haven’t done for 10 years.”

Enforcement isn’t free.

Tofino plans to double its business licence fees for vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts so it can pay for next year’s crackdown on illegal suites.

Currently, a licence to operate a one-room bed and breakfast or vacation rental is $225 with each additional room costing $75. Under a proposal brought to Tofino’s council by district staff at Nov. 15’s regular meeting, these fees would rise to $450 for one room and $150 for each additional room.

“What staff is proposing is that we double the licence fees so that we can have a bylaw staff person dedicated 25 hours-a-week to this kind of work, as well as have some money for legal fees and other research, including the scouring of the internet that we’ve started to do,” said Tofino’s CAO Bob MacPherson. “This is a step to start to provide the funding that would be required to do the things that council is asking of us.”

The district enforces all its bylaws on a complaint-driven basis but council decided earlier this year to take a proactive approach against illegal suites in 2017 and not wait for complaints to shut them down.

Using a computer program dubbed HostCompliance, district staff have been combing through online advertising sites to see what properties are being touted to potential tourists as short-term accommodations with the intent of flagging any unlicenced property being advertised.

The district took in $58,675 in business licence fees from vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts in 2016, according to MacPherson who suggested doubling these fees would help pay for the increased enforcement council has been calling for. The district plans to add $31,250 to its 2017 budget for a part time bylaw officer and $15,000 for its compliance service provider.

Coun. Duncan McMaster supported the proposed increases but scoffed at staff’s reasoning.

“I think using the excuse that it’s for enforcement is wrong because this problem has existed from 2005. The district has done nothing to enforce the bylaws,” McMaster said.

“Now, you’re asking people that were obeying the bylaws to pay for enforcement that you haven’t done for 10 years or more and some of them may have suffered loss of income from the district not enforcing the bylaws. So, for want of a better word, it’s a bit of a tax grab.”

Mayor Josie Osborne suggested something must be done.

“It is problematic that the people who have stepped forward to be legal and have a business licence are going to be helping to fund the enforcement of those who are not. But, I accept we’re in a challenge right now,” she said.

Coun. Dorothy Baert said increasing the fees to up enforcement was the right move.

“We are dealing with realistic needs on a community level that the general taxpayer shouldn’t be carrying the burden of,” she said.

“This is, I think, a very clean way to address our intention that people be in compliance…There are people we know who are not.”

Coun. Al Anderson supported the move but cautioned council against vilifying vacation rentals.

“I’m hearing some things around the table that are a little bit bothersome; that, somehow, this sector is more problematic or is the cause of the influx of all the impacts of tourism,” he said. “I just caution other members of council into getting into that mindset where this sector is the problem.”

Coun. Cathy Thicke suggested putting the increased fee revenue towards community assets.

“For those people who are complying, maybe they can see that it’s not always fair but it’s good for our community to address this issue,” she said. “And, there is going to be something really good that comes out of it that will benefit our community and increase the quality of life that we have.”

MacPherson said he was hesitant to earmark any of the extra dollars for anything other than enforcement.

“We have a lot of needs for bylaw enforcement that I’ve heard at this table, as well as from the community at large,” he said. “These fees are collected for a specific purpose. They are not a tax, they are a fee.”

If adopted, the fee-increase would take effect in January 2017 and would be restricted to vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts.