Tofino is no longer willing to wait for complaints before dealing with illegal vacation rentals.
During March 15’s regular meeting, Tofino’s municipal council directed its staff to put together a long-term plan to deal with short-term rentals and Bed and Breakfast regulations that includes “immediate actions for education and enforcement.”
The motion was brought forward by Mayor Josie Osborne and unanimously approved by council.
Osborne noted nightly tourism accommodations are regulated but these regulations are only enforced on a complaint driven basis and she suggested a more proactive approach was needed before unlicensed nightly rentals kill the local housing supply and bring extinction to affordability.
“A thriving tourism industry is a key part of Tofino’s success, yet the community faces significant challenges such as affordability and limited availability of housing for local residents, including the tourism industry labour force,” she wrote in her notice of motion.
“Over the last two or three years, lack of housing has become even more critical as year-round and seasonal residents struggle to find affordable, adequate accommodation. Although many home-based nightly rentals were legalized more than a decade ago by the District, this use has emerged as an area of concern in the search for solutions to tackle affordability.”
She acknowledged rental suites are a vital source of revenue for many Tofino homeowners but suggested more accommodations for tourists means fewer housing options for locals.
“Further, the use of online marketing and booking tools appears to have contributed to a proliferation of unlicensed nightly rental activity,” she wrote.
“The District of Tofino has a variety of authorities to regulate accommodation rentals to ensure a safe, responsible short-term rental industry that minimizes impacts on neighbourhoods, contributes to meeting visitor expectations in a world-class resort municipality, and creates a level-playing field for all business owners and operators.”
Coun. Dorothy Baert suggested Tofino’s housing fund only contains about $7,000 and wondered how staff planned to fund the rental review.
District CAO Bob Macpherson said staff has enough resources to get started but more would be needed next year.
“For 2017, as we step up more active enforcement, I think we’re going to need to have a conversation about additional and different resources,” he said.
Coun. Duncan McMaster asked if the long-term strategy would include a review of the district’s current bylaws.
MacPherson responded the relevant bylaws are already under review.
“Those bylaws are actually under review now, we’ve had our lawyers have a look at where the challenges are with the existing bylaws and start developing a table of contents or bulleted list of the things we need to identify and come back to council for further direction,” he said.
McMaster doubted education would need to be one of those bullet points.
“I personally believe that the vast majority of the people not conforming to the bylaws know they’re not,” he said. “How long does this education process go before we start to get proactive?”
Osborne said that would be answered in staff’s report.
Coun. Greg Blanchette asked how poised staff was to tackle the issue and noted the word ‘immediate’ in the motion.
MacPherson responded it would take several months to get something going.
“By immediate, I don’t want to pretend that that’s tomorrow or next week,” he said.
“By immediate, I mean within the next few months we’ll start getting some materials together so we’re very clear on what’s permitted and what’s not permitted.”
Coun. Ray Thorogood expressed disdain for Tofino’s current complaint-driven enforcement process.
“That is a mindset that just drives me nuts,” he said. “I’d rather it not be complaint driven; if there’s a problem and a complaint great, if there’s not a complaint and we find it, deal with it.”
Osborne said that’s exactly what her motion would do.
“My main intent for this motion was to stop being complaint driven and to begin being proactive,” she said.
Thorogood said the district should start taking a proactive approach to all of its bylaws.