London

Tourist-friendly Grand Bend, Ont., looks to clamp down on Airbnb with new bylaw

The tourist-friendly beach towns of Grand Bend, Port Franks and Ipperwash, Ont., are looking to clamp down on online short-term rental services some say are driving up real estate prices and altering the very fabric of their lakeside communities.

Mayor says too many short-term rentals have altered the fabric of the community

While residents of lakeside communities in Lambton Shores feel short-term rentals bring business into town in the form of tourism, they're also concerned about excessive noise, large gatherings, as well as garbage and septic issues.  (Colin Butler/CBC)

The tourist-friendly beach towns of Grand Bend, Port Franks and Ipperwash, Ont., are looking to clamp down on Airbnb and other online short-term rental services that some believe are driving up real estate prices and altering the very fabric of their communities. 

Councillors with the Municipality of Lambton Shores, which presides over all three lakefront towns, are voting on a proposed bylaw Tuesday that seeks to restrict short-term rentals with licensing, occupancy limits and a 24/7 complaints hotline, paid for through licensing fees, for locals concerned about noise, garbage and large gatherings.

The proposal comes after months of public consultation, in which officials canvassed residents and landlords by mail, online surveys and virtual meetings.

According to the findings, while most people felt short-term rentals were an important economic driver in the sense that they brought business into town, they were also concerned with the excessive noise, large gatherings, as well as garbage and septic issues that come with it. 

Short-term rentals fray otherwise close-knit communities

Beyond that, Lambton Shores Mayor Bill Weber told CBC News Thursday that the number of short-term rentals across the municipality, which staff estimate at 300, has reached a tipping point and has begun fraying the very fabric of local neighbourhoods. 

While the view of Lake Huron may be priceless for seasonal sun seekers, the sheer number of short-term rentals are starting to cost lakefront communities like Grand Bend, Ont., in terms of their neighbourhood cohesion. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"One of the things that I'm hearing a lot is that all our houses get sold and they're all short-term rentals."

"There isn't a sense of community anymore. So you never get to know your neighbours and there's never enough neighbours around because the houses are changing over all the time."

Demand for recreational properties in cottage communities isn't just limited to Grand Bend, Port Franks or Ipperwash, it has skyrocketed across the province as a whole.

A recent report from Royal LePage said prices of waterfront property in Ontario have shot up nearly 35 per cent since last year, compared to a national average of 21 per cent and the real estate firm said, prices are likely to see double-digit gains again in 2022. 

Part of what's driving that demand is online home sharing services such as Airbnb, whose short-term tenants who pay as much as $475 a night to be a few steps from the beach, which is as lucrative for landlords as it is a drain on the supply of long-term rentals and single-family homes. 

It also blurs the line between residential and commercial land use, creating a thorny problem for regulators – one Lambton Shores' proposed bylaw hopes to address with a licensing fee anywhere from $500 to $2,500 and a cap on the amount of guests at two per bedroom, plus two, up to a maximum of eight guests per home. 

CBC News contacted Airbnb for comment Thursday, but a spokesperson did not reply by publication time. 

We don't love the idea that we're being regulated or that we have to pay fees, but maybe that's necessary for the greater good.- Christine Steiginga

"I don't feel targeted by this bylaw," said Christine Steiginga, a Grand Bend cottage owner since 2016 who lives in the Greater Toronto Area and rents out her vacation property for $2,750 a week. 

"I grew up in the area as a child, there's always been this dynamic that people are concerned about the party-goers."

"We don't love the idea that we're being regulated or that we have to pay fees, but maybe that's necessary for the greater good because that brings the non-compliant people into line with us."

Steiginga said it's why she takes a lot of time to get to know her tenants and build relationships with them and her neighbours in the beach community and as a result most are repeat customers and she's fully booked by Thanksgiving. 

"We don't live in Grand Bend," she said. "We don't want problems we have to drive for hours to go and solve."

If Lambton Shores councillors vote to accept the proposed bylaw on Tuesday, it likely won't come into full effect until next summer since the municipality has yet to set up a hotline and most short-term rentals have already been booked for the year. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Reporter

Colin Butler covers the environment, real estate, justice and urban affairs for CBC News in London, Ont. He is a veteran journalist with 20 years' experience in print, radio and television in seven Canadian cities. You can email him at colin.butler@cbc.ca.

now