Should short-term rentals be regulated? Charlottetown mayoral candidates weigh in

Housing has dominated the conversation around P.E.I.'s municipal elections in many centres, but none more than the capital city.

Candidates say housing is the biggest issue as they go door-to-door

Charlottetown mayoral candidates each have ideas about the best way to approach the issue of short-term rentals. (CBC)

Housing has dominated the conversation around P.E.I.'s municipal elections in most places, but none more than the capital city.

With Charlottetown's vacancy rate at less than one per cent according to the latest numbers from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the five candidates for mayor weighed in on what has been highlighted as one part of the problem: short-term rentals. 

Former health executive and former councillor Cecil Villard would like to see something similar to what Vancouver has done recently, limiting rentals to people's principal residences . 

"I think when you limit it to residential properties I think it takes all of the apartments out of the equation completely," he said. 

'I think there needs to be a process to reassess the Airbnbs because they are now commercial properties and should be taxed accordingly,' says Cecil Villard. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

"It does then allow you to have some sense as to where these Airbnbs are located, what neighbourhoods they are located in, but at the same time I think there needs to be a process to reassess the Airbnbs because they are now commercial properties and should be taxed accordingly."

Add a levy says Brown

Philip Brown, in his third campaign for the mayor's seat, said applying the commercial tax rate to both the property and the water and sewer utilities could be a solution.

He is also proposing charging a room levy, a markup already in place on accommodations like hotel rooms, designed to help pay for tourism marketing and promotion. Brown said a levy charged on short-term rentals could be used to fund future affordable housing.

"If Airbnbs are making money from tourists, then they should be also collecting the room levy," he said. 

Philip Brown says taxing and adding a levy is the answer. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

"That will become an affordable housing levy that will be used for creating a pool of money, looking at new ways at looking at affordable housing, to fund or help provide seed-funding for organizations that want to be involved in affordable housing."

Former councillor and former chair of the planning committee Kim Devine agrees that regulations, including commercial taxes, need to happen but in the right way. 

Kim Devine says the community needs to talk it out to find the right solution for Charlottetown. (Submitted by Kim Devine)

"I think we have to come up with a made-in-Charlottetown solution," she said. 

"We need to come together as a community to talk about how do we make it fair to everybody, how do they fit in to our community, where do they fit."

Level playing field

Jamie Larkin — who ran in Ward 1 in 2014 — thinks businesses should be treated equally.

"I believe that short-term rentals should be on a level playing field as [bed and breakfasts] and inns. I believe in fairness and equality, so it has to be a level playing field. They should be licensed with the city."

Jamie Larkin says short-term rentals should be treated the same as inns and bed and breakfasts. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

But actor William McFadden is doubtful regulation would work. 

"It's very difficult for the government to step in and tell private industry ... what they should be doing."

Instead he hopes that the new council can work together with outgoing mayor Clifford Lee in his new position as special adviser for the province's housing action plan to find a solution.

He added that more transit will be needed if affordable housing is going to be built outside the city.

William McFadden says it is hard for government to regulate any industry. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Brown, Villard and Devine said looking at the planning bylaw to find ways to make it easier for developers to build more units within an affordable rate is a priority. All three said tax incentives to build affordable units and allowing more variances for height or size could work. 

McFadden thinks until the majority of citizens in Charlottetown want more done for those in need of housing, the issue will persist. 

Larkin would rather see the city buy properties and hold them as affordable housing units. 

Voters only have a few days to decide who to support. The election is on Monday, Nov. 5. 

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Natalia Goodwin

Video Journalist

Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.