COVID-19 restrictions see some short-term rentals returned to P.E.I. housing market
Dismal tourism prospects lead some operators to remove listings, find longer-term tenants
Some short-term rental operators on P.E.I. are taking their listings off the market, bringing longer-term tenants in to help pay the bills — providing at least a temporary boost to P.E.I.'s tight housing market.
"It's way more lucrative to rent by night," said Terrie Williams, who would normally have five properties available to tourists through Airbnb from May to September.
"But the reality is that we don't have those visitors coming. So we all have mortgages to pay. So we have to adapt what we're doing to meet the landscape now."
Williams said she has rented out two of the five units she operates to tenants who will stay for the entire summer, and possibly longer.
Two other units are still booked by tourists who had planned to visit from the mainland, but "unless things change they're all going to cancel," said Williams.
Her fifth short-term rental is her home, which she normally vacates for the summer months, to make extra money renting it out to tourists. But this summer she's decided to stay put.
"That one was fully booked for the whole summer, and so that was a tough pill to swallow," she said.
P.E.I. closed to non-essential travel
Tourism is the second-biggest industry on P.E.I. behind agriculture, but prospects for the coming season are dismal. The province is currently closed to non-essential visitors, with no specific timeline as to when that will change.
Williams said she does hold out some hope in the prospect of opening up the province to visitors from New Brunswick and possibly Nova Scotia.
But in the meantime Williams, who's part of a Facebook group of Charlottetown-area short-term rental operators, says many are doing the same thing she is — trying to fill properties with longer-term tenants until next summer, when they once again plan to open up to tourists.
Williams said there are also some who are simply removing short-term listings for their properties and putting them on the long-term market, seeking permanent tenants, "which is going to put some of the housing stock back."
Lowest vacancy rate in the country
According to the most recent statistics from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, P.E.I. has the lowest vacancy rate in the country at 1.2 per cent.
Experts, including David Wachsmuth, a professor with the School of Urban Planning at McGill University, say a significant factor in P.E.I.'s housing crunch has been the rise of the short-term rental market.
The City of Charlottetown consulted with Wachsmuth on a study released in March that found there were 635 active short-term rental units in the city, of which 193 would otherwise have been part of the long-term housing market.
Putting those units back on the market would more than double Charlottetown's vacancy rate, the city concluded, pushing it from 1.2 to 2.9 per cent.
The study also found short-term rentals had helped drive up rental costs in the city by 17.7 per cent since 2017.
'A short-term positive impact'
Aimee Power, with the advocacy group P.E.I. Fight for Affordable Housing, said her group has been noticing rental properties coming back on the market — in some cases the listings are discovered by the tenants who lived there before the units were turned into short-term rentals.
"I think we're seeing some impact that those short-term rentals had on the long-term market, by seeing all of these units come back," said Power.
"I think it'll have a short-term positive impact on those looking for a place to live," said Power, but she questioned whether there would be a lasting improvement in the vacancy rate.
"A lot of those, it could be presumed they would go back to being a short-term rental as soon as our restrictions are lifted."
But Williams said it won't be so easy for those who lease their units out on a full-time basis to turn them back into short-term rentals.
"I don't think you can just, you know, ask them to leave because you want to revert to short-term rentals," said Williams, "so when you make that decision to go long-term … I think it's pretty final until that tenant moves out."
Regulatory changes coming, sometime
The P.E.I. government has developed a draft of a new Residential Tenancy Act which would make it harder for landlords to evict tenants under false pretences. Some of the changes are meant to target renovictions, where landlords evict someone while claiming to be making major repairs.
Public consultations on that legislation were scheduled to be held in March.
The City of Charlottetown has also been moving toward new regulations for short-term rentals.
A public meeting was tentatively scheduled for March 31 to present options, but Councillor Greg Rivard, chair of Charlottetown's planning committee, said that meeting has been postponed indefinitely.
He said the city is "waiting for the province to lift restrictions for large gatherings."
Rivard said the meeting is expected to draw upwards of 200 people and the city doesn't want to risk having "anything lost in translation or messed up" by trying to hold the meeting online.
But Power said she'd like to see consultations move forward in some capacity, with the city providing the public with updated information through its website.
"There's just been so many delays with this process to date," she said.
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