The Town of Canmore is cracking down on illegal vacation rentals, and property owners caught breaking the rules are facing thousands of dollars in fines. 

After an awareness campaign this summer informing residents of the rules surrounding short-term rentals, the town began issuing tickets  — three $2,500 fines so far. 

"You need to have a permit to allow you to rent your house in that short-term fashion. And these properties don't have that authorization," said Canmore planning and development manager Alaric Fish.

Under Canmore's land-use bylaws, operating a tourist home in commercial and mixed-use areas, with a business licence, is legal. But vacation rentals are not allowed in residential areas.

And in a town where the vacancy rate hovers around zero per cent, Fish said the hundreds of of short-term rentals on websites like Airbnb and VRBO are only furthering the housing crunch.

"By decreasing the supply of housing, it drives up the rates that prices are being charged for the available units," he said.

Fine grows with additional offences

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman told The Calgary Eyeopener on Friday the town tried not to be too heavy-handed in its approach, first trying to educate property owners found to be in violation before moving to a stop-use order and ticketing. 

"They have 14 days to appeal," he said. "Then post-appeal, the violation tag, if it's not covered, will become a provincial ticket."

After the first ticket, the fine for each additional offence goes up to $5,000.

'We know there is a demand for it'

Aside from the housing crunch, Fish said the town is also concerned about the disruption the short-term rental users can cause in neighbourhoods and the fairness in property owners profiting from short-term rentals without having to pay the same taxes as commercial properties like hotels and bed-and-breakfast operations.

"We know there is a demand for this, so we want to try and address that," Fish said.

"We're looking at ways that we might be able to change regulations to address some of those other fairness, nuisance and housing supply issues over the next year. But at this point, we need to stay on top of it." 

With files from Andrew Brown and The Calgary Eyeopener