Tofino is going to war with illegal suites in 2017 and the battlefield is online.
Tofino’s bylaws have historically been enforced on a complaint driven basis, but the district will be proactively going after unlicensed vacation rentals this year.
Using a computer program called HostCompliance, the district is combing the Internet for local properties being advertised as accommodations on websites like Airbnb and ensuring those properties are licenced to accommodate as advertised.
“Tofino Council has given staff clear direction on enforcing short-term rental regulations and I hope we have made it clear to the community that the District of Tofino expects all short-term rental operations to operate legally, that is, with a valid business licence,” Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News in an email.
“Short-term rentals are a valued accommodation option for visitors, and we know that they also help homeowners afford to own a home in Tofino, but we have what I think are reasonable rules that we expect home owners to play by. Enforcement activities may not be highly visible to the community, and we—like any other authority enforcing its laws—need to undertake due diligence to do it properly.”
Tofino’s bylaw enforcement resources fluctuate throughout the year with one full-time, year-round bylaw officer joined by seasonal reinforcements during the summer months.
The district laid the groundwork for 2017’s crackdown on illegal rentals last year by setting up the HostCompliance program and budgeting for a part-time bylaw enforcement officer who will focus entirely on finding any accommodations being advertised online and cross referencing those accommodations with the district’s business licence holders.
Tofino budgeted roughly $15,000 for the HostCompliance program and another $31,250 for the part-time staffer. To pay for that increased enforcement, Tofino’s municipal council signed off on a recommendation from district staff in November to double the business licence fees for vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts.
The new fees took effect on Jan. 1 and the cost to licence a one-room bed and breakfast or vacation rental jumped from $225 to $450. The cost for each additional room also rose from $75 to $150. No other licence fees were affected.
Speaking to the Westerly News last week, district CAO Bob MacPherson noted Tofino worked with the RCMP last year to bring in an RCMP reservist to assist with bylaw enforcement on a part-time basis and plans to do that again this year with a focus on illegal suites.
“We paid that person’s salary and they worked very closely with the bylaw department, focused entirely on bylaw issues,” he said. “We had good success having an RCMP reservist doing bylaw enforcement last summer and we plan to do that again this year.”
The reservist’s work cost Tofino roughly $24,593 in 2016, according to MacPherson. He said 2017’s vacation rental crackdown would include investigating unlicensed operations as well as accommodations running over the capacity their licence allows for and he expressed confidence in the district’s ability to handle the proactive approach.
“I think we’re doing a lot of things to set ourselves up for success,” he said. “There will be some things that, a year from now, we’ll maybe have wished we’d done differently. But, by in large, this is going to be something that works very well for Tofino.”
He hopes to see locals abide by the town’s bylaws, but acknowledged the district is prepared for more potential battles than years past.
“We are budgeting for more legal with respect to business licences this year and business licence enforcement this year,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we get voluntary compliance in the early stages of identifying if there’s a problem, and that going to the extent of having a hearing for considering revoking someone’s business licence, or suspending someone’s business licence, will not be necessary.”
He said the proactive enforcement model could become the new standard.
“It’s all up to council setting a budget, but the plan is to continue it into next year as well,” he said.