An increasing number of homeowners are renting space in their home on a short-term basis to help them make some extra money. But closing the space off from the rest of the home in order to provide privacy for themselves and guests is forcing them to seek special approval from council under the municipality’s newly minted short-term rental regulations.
Huntsville’s planning committee heard from two such applicants at its first remote public meeting held since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. Under the new rules, all operators of short-term rental accommodations, such as Airbnbs, are now required to be licensed and pay the municipality’s four per cent Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT).
The municipality passed a bylaw last December to license, inspect and regulate short-term rental accommodations, while the corresponding zoning for such properties followed in January.
The regulations also prohibit those with a self-contained apartment in their home, referred to as a secondary suite, from renting it on a short-term basis due to a shortage of long-term rental accommodations in the municipality. Anyone wanting to move forward with such a use would have to get a special exemption—one that would have to be voted on by Huntsville’s planning committee and then ratified by council.
On July 21, Huntsville’s planning committee heard from two separate applicants who asked that they be given permission to continue renting their self-contained units in their home through Airbnb. Both parties noted that if approval was not granted, they would not resort to renting their space on a long-term basis.
The first applicants own a bungalow on Woods Street in Port Sydney. The young couple, who recently had their first child, have been Airbnb hosts for the past three years. They said it has helped them out financially and told committee that if they’re not allowed to continue generating income through the short-term rental of part of their home, they would suffer financial hardship and could be forced to sell.
They said they are considered super hosts by Airbnb, promote the village of Port Sydney and Huntsville at large to visitors, and add to the tourism fabric of the area.
The couple also told committee that their rental space is small, contains no laundry facilities, and would not be suitable as a long-term rental. They said in order to put in laundry facilities they would need a bigger septic system, which would not be financially feasible.
“We’ve already looked into the possibility of selling our home if this doesn’t go through. It’s really a hard market to buy in right now as I’m sure you’re all very aware, so instead of creating housing you would actually be losing housing on our end,” said Jessica Super. She and her husband Dan pleaded with committee during an online meeting to allow the couple to continue the practise of renting a portion of their home on a short-term basis.
“Our intent was never to make life more difficult for our residents, it was just to get our short-term rentals licensed,” said Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano, who was in favour of allowing the exemption.
As much as I understand our rental needs in this community, that’s not on the backs of these folks who’ve been renting an Airbnb for at least three years and doing it successfully. — Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano
Councillor Jason FitzGerald agreed. “I fully support you guys and good luck,” he said.
“I also agree,” said committee chair and Deputy Mayor Nancy Alcock. “It’s already been run as an Airbnb for a few years. That was not our intent to shut things down, and I’m a huge housing advocate so I’m very much in support of the mayor’s comment on that as well as yours Councillor FitzGerald.”
Prompted by a question from committee, Huntsville director of planning services Kirstin Maxwell explained to the committee that any short-term rentals which do not fall under the existing short-term rental accommodation regulations—currently a two-year pilot—are required to seek an exemption from the committee (and council) in order to continue operating. The rationale, said Maxwell, is that councillors could then make an informed decision on a case-by-case basis. “We didn’t want to give any sort of blanket approvals to that sort of use because we know there is such a housing crisis in Muskoka,” she said, adding that previously existing operators are given a reduced rate in order to become licensed, and those who do not qualify under the existing bylaw can seek an exemption from council.
Huntsville Counillor Bob Stone said the couple is a good example of “how it should be done. You went and got your neighbours to say that this is a fine thing that’s happening in their neighbourhood already, and you’re obviously doing a great job having the rating you do on Airbnb, and I have no trouble supporting this going forward,” he said. “But the need for long-term rental is a very real thing in our town and the only way I can approach these as they come before us is on a very individual [basis]and it’s sad that I have to do this, just bring my opinion rather than having rules in place but the next one that comes before us… I may or may not go ahead with or approve.”
The second applicant and existing Airbnb host with a single-family dwelling on South Mary Lake Road in Port Sydney and frontage on the Muskoka River, was also before committee seeking an exemption to continue renting a secondary dwelling unit in her home on a short-term basis. She also had a letter of support from a neighbour and told committee that she is also considered a super host by Airbnb.
“Like Jessica and Dan, factually the conversion of our existing secondary residential unit would not have an impact on the long-term housing stock because we wouldn’t consider renting it long-term,” Karen Watkinson told committee. “We live on the property. We are not absentee landlords and to be practical we have a dog that doesn’t get along with other dogs and in a long-term situation we would not be able to control that.”
She said they want family and friends to join them during holidays and vacations, and they would occupy the space in the secondary dwelling unit, otherwise known as their basement, and that would not be possible if it were rented on a long-term basis. “We also want the flexibility at times to enjoy our property without guests and in a long-term rental we can’t do this. In a short-term rental situation, we simply block off the time so that our family can visit us or that we can travel without guests on our property.”
Watkinson also explained that through Airbnb the hosts receive additional liability insurance, a protection that they’d have to purchase themselves if their space was offered up as a long-term rental.
She said they’ve been hosting short-term guests for their fourth summer. “We are not the people with parties and noise and parking issues. We have a maximum of four people on-site at any time. We have plenty of parking and we’re a very quiet location,” she added.
Councillor FitzGerald said he lives very close to the residence and was not aware that it contained an Airbnb. “And it’s been operating for four seasons so that’s a testament to I guess a super host… and it seems to fit part and parcel with what we’re trying to accomplish here, so keep up the good work,” he said.
Committee approved her application for an exemption as well.
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