Tofino’s lax vacation rental laws have allowed out-of-town investors to operate hotels disguised as bed and breakfasts and the district is searching for ways to stem the tide.
Running a bed and breakfast is currently an allowable use in Tofino’s residential zones as long as no more than three guestrooms are running and a business licence is received. There is, however, no limit on how many other rooms a house operating a bed and breakfast can have and it’s difficult for district staffers to be sure none of those other rooms are being offered to tourists.
Tofino’s Manager of Community Sustainability Aaron Rodgers brought a recommendation to council during last week’s regular meeting that called for a four-room limit on any new bed and breakfast applications.
That limit would mean anyone who applied for a business licence to operate a bed and breakfast in a house with five or more rooms would automatically be denied. Rodgers said the change would only affect new homes and any current bed and breakfasts would be grandfathered in as legally-nonconforming.
“As long as you didn’t stop for more than six months. If you stop for more than six months it actually reverts to the new zoning,” he said.
Coun. Al Anderson struggled with the idea of cutting larger houses out of the bed and breakfast market and said he needed more information on what the potential impacts could be.
“It could have an impact if you’re a family and you need more than two bedrooms just for your primary residential use, or an impact if you wanted to, maybe, provide a room for someone to work at your b and b or something like that,” he said.
Rodgers suggested Tofino doesn’t have many lots left to develop and those remaining should be prevented from becoming unaffordable to residents uninterested in playing the accommodation game.
“We might have houses built with five or six or seven rooms that no one will ever be able to afford to buy and will have to be operated commercially to maintain that mortgage,” he said.
Council directed staff to provide more information on what the size limit could mean at a future meeting.
Rodgers told the Westerly News Tofino’s loose laws are allowing investors to push the local housing supply outside the residential realm and into profit-generating short-term rentals.
“In terms of land use, the bylaws allowing short term rentals are, in some cases, driving the size of houses, which drives the value of the land up,” he said.
“It’s a bit of a blunt tool, but we’re just trying to make our intention known that b and b’s and short term rentals are home occupations. They’re not the primary use of the property…The way I’m looking at it is, it’s going to make it less desirable for people to run bed and breakfasts, period.”
He said the move could steer the market towards smaller, more affordable, homes that don’t need to double as accommodations for mortgages to be obtainable and he hopes limiting house sizes will help deter investors while keeping the door open for “life-style migrants” looking to become new locals.
“There’s not much we can do about the value of the houses out here being $500,000-$600,000, that’s market driven. What we can do though is, if we can limit use, we may be able to hold some of those prices down or at least not not have people buying them as an investment,” he said.
“If we allow it to be an investment, then you’re also encouraging people from out of town to compete with us as well. If you make it less of an investment, we’re going to have less competition…You’re basically getting back to housing as housing; you don’t have that commercial bump.”