Debate over short-term rentals divides town outside of Manitoba's Riding Mountain National Park

A debate over short-term home rentals is dividing a Manitoba municipality that borders Riding Mountain National Park — some residents believe the rentals are good for tourism, others want the practice regulated or banned entirely.

Councillor tabling motion to ban short-term rentals at meeting on Dec. 15

Local resident Tyler Plante's Bears Den rental is one of roughly 90 short-term rental units in the Municipality of Harrison Park. (Bears Den/Airbnb)

A debate over short-term home rentals is dividing a Manitoba municipality that borders Riding Mountain National Park — some residents believe the rentals are good for tourism, others want the practice regulated or banned entirely.

The reeve of the Municipality of Harrison Park, which includes Onanole, Newdale and Sandy Lake, says there are residents who are firmly against short-term rentals, including Airbnbs, and others who are enthusiastic about the tourists being driven to the area.

Jason Potter believes in bolstering the region's economy, but does think there needs to be clear rules for the proprietors of the roughly 90 rentals in the municipality and their visitors.

"The town of Onanole, our whole economy is driven by tourism. And I think a lot of people feel really strongly about that because [... ] the major driving force of our economy is tourism," he said.

"I'm a big supporter of small business and entrepreneurs, and I think that we need to come up with some sort of a draft bylaw with rules and restrictions, obviously in regards to [short-term rentals], but a complete ban, I am not in support of."

Just a few of the Airbnbs located within a short drive of Riding Mountain National Park. (Airbnb)

Next month, the debate over short-term rentals will come to a head when Coun. Craig Atkinson will introduce a motion to ban them in the municipality at the last council meeting of 2021.

"I don't think residential people expect hotels to be beside them in residential areas and I think it [...] makes it difficult for families to find homes here," Atkinson told CBC News.

A view looking out onto Clear Lake from the Wasagaming townsite. Short-term rental units are popping up all around Riding Mountain National Park. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Onanole homeowner Ralph Clark wants the short-term rental business curtailed in residential areas because rental properties are businesses that can be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

He bought his property in 2005 and started living there full-time just over three years ago. In that time, someone bought the property across the street from him and operates it as an Airbnb.

This last summer was "a summer that I would not wish upon anybody," he said, and made him contemplate his future in the town.

"During this past summer, in about a an 11-week period, we've had to contact our neighbours seven different times. We've called the RCMP on two different occasions and there has been about two or three occasions where we tried to deal with the situation on our own," Clark said.

Those situations have varied from noise complaints to people trespassing on his property.

Short-term rentals boost economic growth

On the other end of the spectrum, Tyler Plante is all for short-term rentals. He owns a property called the Bears Den in Onanole, which operates as an Airbnb.

Plante says he understands how sad it can be for locals who've had "a little slice of heaven" for many years and are experiencing a shift.

Tyler Plante says Airbnb properties and short-term rentals like his help boost the local economy. (Bears Den/Airbnb)

"It's disheartening, but it's part of life," he said.

"In order for communities to continue to grow, there needs to be the economic growth and that stems in this area from tourism. And the more tourists you can bring in, [...] the better for the businesses."

The realtor believes the municipality should put a levy on short-term rental units and develop more tailored rules to ensure it's not the "wild west of Airbnbs".

"There needs to be respect for that neighbour and make sure that everyone is cohabitating appropriately because otherwise, it's just going to turn a beautiful place into something messy, and no one wants that," Plante said.

"We just have to find a common ground, and that's where we have to put our trust in our council."

With files from Erin Brohman


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