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Short term rental units on the rise

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Masha Scheele

Airbnb currently lists 73 rental units in Hinton, that’s more than double what they had just seven months ago when only 37 short term rentals (STR) were listed.

With no regulations in Hinton regarding STR units other than Bed & Breakfast operations as a home based business, some rental owners could pose a huge risk to the health and safety of the community.

A big reason for the risk is due to rental units not being required to meet proper building codes.

After discussion at the standing committee meeting on Oct. 8, council awaits a report with options to regulate STR accommodations by January 2020.

All levels of government struggle with regulating the growing industry, but are attempting to create a modern regulatory framework addressing unintended consequences by STR accommodations, stated the report brought to council.

British Columbia and Quebec are the only provinces to have provincial legislation in place covering the area of tax collection but not health and safety, landlord and tenant relations, or commercial contracting. 

In Alberta, the Town of Canmore has defined their STR units as ‘tourist homes,’ which are only allowed in specific zones and are required to pay higher taxes than regular residential spaces, according to the report.

Coun. Trevor Haas asked if it would be feasible to include STR units with the Bed & Breakfasts, but protective services manager Todd Martens explained that they’re already having a hard time keeping up with fire code inspections and enforcement. 

Adding another bylaw without more officers isn’t feasible, he explained.

“Right now on a fire [code] aspect, we’re barely getting by,” he said. “And who’s going to enforce it? If it’s going to be a bylaw or peace officer, we currently can’t do that. We’re just keeping the levels now.”

Haas added that without policing there is a risk of rental units not meeting requirements and putting neighborhoods at risk.

Martens added that currently there are also many Bed & Breakfasts that aren’t up to code and still function as a business.

“Most municipalities are accredited under municipal affairs and safety council to do bill inspection, gas, plumbing, electric. This community is not, so people have to go to the province for that or they contact a contractor,” said CAO Martin Taylor.

Because the town is not accredited, they don’t have requirements to run businesses like these, said Taylor.

Coun. Albert Ostashek said that Hinton has ten times the STR units available on Airbnb than neighbouring communities to the east. Besides the uninspected, unlicensed units putting lives at risk, it takes away affordable housing from those who need it, he continued. He pointed out that the only communities dealing with the influx of STR units are tourist communities who have implemented a business license system to control it.

Requiring STR owners to obtain a business license in order to operate would mean an amendment to the business license bylaw and the land use bylaw.

Again, Hinton doesn’t have enough manpower to enforce additional bylaws, said Martens.

Coun. Ostashek suggested putting conditions on who is granted a business license like proving they have proper inspections and insurance.

Martens pointed out that Hinton also has just as big of a problem with illegal rental suites as they do with the safety of Airbnb’s.

More information will come back to council on this issue by Jan. 2020.