PEI

Charlottetown short-term rental survey missing key option, says advocate

An advocate for affordable housing in Charlottetown says a city survey seeking input on how to regulate the short-term rental industry “raises eyebrows” by failing to include one option that’s been adopted from Vancouver to Victoria-by-the-Sea.

Restricting rentals to owner-occupied homes not included in survey

A CBC analysis in April 2019 found one in 50 private dwellings in the city was listed on the website. (AirDNA.co)

An advocate for affordable housing in Charlottetown says a city survey seeking input on how to regulate the short-term rental industry "raises eyebrows" by failing to include one option that's been adopted from Vancouver to Victoria-by-the-Sea.

"I'm happy that the survey has come out and that the city is starting to look at this issue," said Aimee Power, who in April was named as a member of the city's affordable housing advisory committee.

"But ... I'm very disappointed that no mention of owner-occupied is listed in the survey."

'Most popular regulation scheme'

Power said the requirement that property owners only be allowed to list their own principal residence as a short-term rental is "by far the most popular regulation scheme that's happening in Canada," as cities look to limit the amount of housing stock being converted to vacation rentals.

But that option isn't included for those filling out Charlottetown's survey.

A question on the survey asking what approach the city should take with the issue includes three pre-written responses:

  • Allow short-term rentals in all residential areas, but make rules to protect the integrity of the neighbourhood.

  • Leave tourism homes (short-term rentals) where they are (single-detached homes) and add more resources to be able to enforce current regulations.

  • Do nothing.

The next question asks what the city might do to protect housing supply:

  • Apply the same rules to short-term rentals as bed and breakfast or hotel operators.

  • Only allow short-term rentals a specified amount of time each year.

  • Restrict short-term rentals to single-detached dwellings.

While on some questions respondents are allowed to write their own responses, Power said given the lack of an option promoting owner-occupied regulation of short-term rentals, it's unlikely the city will hear that response in return.

Aimee Power, of Charlottetown, says a city survey on how to regulate the short-term rental industry failed to offer the option of what she calls 'by far the most popular regulation scheme' in the country: limiting rentals to owner-occupied residences, something that's been adopted from Vancouver to Victoria-by-the-Sea. (Submitted by Aimee Power)

"And that's why it raises eyebrows that it's not even offered up."

Overall, Power said other survey questions on the benefits of short-term rentals "almost seem encouraging [people] to get on board with Airbnb, and just kind of tighten up the rules, or change the rules to allow people to keep going as they have been."

Not trying to steer responses, says city

But the city's manager of planning Alex Forbes said the survey, written by city staff, isn't trying to steer respondents to any particular conclusions.

"We attempted to write the survey in a manner that didn't necessarily indicate that this was a preferred direction. It was to try to get all sides of the issue," Forbes said.

As to the lack of an option to suggest the city limit short-term rentals to owner-occupied residences, Forbes said the goal wasn't to spend "reams and reams of time" developing a "perfect" survey.

'There is a lot of people who want to see regulation that actually puts houses back into long-term rentals,' says Aimee Power of the group P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing. (John MacDougall/Getty Images)

"The point was to allow council, before they get into a public meeting, to recognize that there's a number of sides to this."

Once the issue goes to a public meeting, Forbes said "the community will start to be very articulate in regard to how they see a direction they think will work for a majority of residents."

Coun. Greg Rivard has said public meetings to discuss short-term rentals will be held in June.

Current restrictions

According to the survey document, Charlottetown's current zoning and development bylaw regulations "don't allow everyone to rent out their home to tourists for short-term rental purposes."

That bylaw says tourist homes and bed and breakfast operations are only allowed in owner-occupied residential properties that are single-detached homes — not apartments, condos or duplexes.

There is a lot of people who want to see regulation that actually puts houses back into long-term rentals … not just kind of these Band-Aid solutions.— Aimee Power

But Forbes said the city's bylaw is "silent" on other types of short-term tourism rentals that don't qualify as tourist homes or bed and breakfasts.

And in those cases, Forbes said "we clearly have not been signing off with those property owners indicating that this is what we regard as a permitted use," although the city says there are growing numbers of unregistered short-term rentals in operation.

Vacancy rate approaching zero

In November 2018 the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported Charlottetown's apartment vacancy rate for the year at 0.2 per cent.

In April a CBC analysis found nearly two per cent of housing in the city — one in 50 private dwellings — was listed on the website Airbnb, the second-highest proportion in the country. That same analysis found the top host in Charlottetown had 12 properties listed on the site.

"So many people are getting evicted so that their house can be turned into an Airbnb or going to buy their first home and getting outbid by people who already own 10 Airbnbs in town," said Power, a member of the group P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing.

"There is a lot of people who want to see regulation that actually puts houses back into long-term rentals … not just kind of these Band-Aid solutions."

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About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca

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