Tofino’s vacation rental trend is getting a firm stink-eye from municipal councillors who believe its bringing long term housing to an end.
Coun. Duncan McMaster has lived in Tofino for roughly 11 years and has never seen the local rental market as sold out as it has been this year.
“I’ve had friends this year that have been kicked out of their rentals because their landlord wants to convert it into short term rentals,” McMaster told the Westerly News.
“This is the worst I’ve seen it. We always used to say locals could find rental accommodation once you’re in the know. But, now there’s a lot of significant locals that are having problems.”
McMaster’s view is a shared one on a council that sees short-term rentals as a troubling norm and is searching for ways to bring locals shelter from the storm.
“Short term rentals reduce supply and increase the price of long term rental housing,” McMaster said. “It’s not the only factor but it is one of the factors that are causing the problem.”
Anyone wanting to operate a vacation rental in Tofino must first acquire a business licence but this is enforced on a complaint driven basis and council has doubts that all of the roughly 220 nightly accommodations being advertised in Tofino are licenced.
“Unless somebody complains, nothing really happens,” McMaster said. “I’m not the biggest fan of that. If there’s something wrong, you don’t just drive past it, you stop and fix it.”
Concerns over short-term rentals swallowing the local housing supply prompted a discussion back in March, where council agreed to stop waiting for complaints before seeking out and shutting down unlicensed rental suites starting in 2017.
McMaster brought a motion to Oct. 25’s council meeting to reaffirm the plan for proactive enforcement and, in part, assure locals their elected officials are working on the situation.
“It was a reaffirmation of what council had passed months ago because, I think, there’s a lot of people who don’t think we’re that serious,” McMaster said.
“It’s November now and I get a lot of questions from members of the public: ‘Are we going to do anything? Have we done anything?’ I just say, ‘We’re going to do it next year’ and I don’t think people are really believing it.”
McMaster’s Oct. 25 motion includes an investigation into the possibility of allowing short term rentals in primary residences only.
He believes the district should try to discourage out-of-town investors from buying up properties and renting them out to tourists.
“We’re creating this housing at the moment, which is in that $400,000-$500,000 range,” he said.
“It’s still not really affordable to a lot of Tofitians, but it’s enabling people from overseas or the mainland to get a foot in here and just rent it out. They come out for their two weeks of the year and then they rent it out the rest of the time and they’re not interested in long term rentals.”
He said other communities restrict vacation rentals to primary residences and cited his own condo in Key West which, as a non-resident, he cannot offer as a short-term rental.
“I can do a rental for 30 days or more, but I can’t do a nightly rental. That’s restricted to locals,” he said.
He added moving Tofino in this direction and making vacation rentals a locals only opportunity would mean a change in the district’s zoning bylaw that would need to go through a public process.
“Its going to require public input and consensus,” he said.
“It’s not just me as a dictator deciding this. It would have to go through public input and then, if the public decides they want to do it, that’s for council to push it through; and, I tend to think there are a lot of people thinking along this line because they are struggling to find places to rent.”