Short-term vacation rentals still unlawful on Gabriola

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, October 3 2017

Short-term vacation rentals - in particular ones rented through online websites like Airbnb - remain an issue on Gabriola, especially when they are seen as taking away from the long-term housing stock of the island.

Enforcement regarding illegal short-term vacation rentals on Gabriola will not be suspended while the Trust works on a public education program about how rentals can be made legal.

At the most recent Local Trust Committee, Trustees Heather O’Sullivan and Melanie Mamoser heard from Miles Drew, Islands Trust Manager of Bylaw Enforcement.

Within the Gabriola Land Use Bylaw (LUB), short-term vacation rentals (STVRs) are defined as residential dwellings that are rented for a period of less than one month. The LUB states that all dwellings, including cottages, are for residential use and that any use for overnight accommodation on less that a monthly basis for monetary gain is prohibited.

An exemption can be gained by obtaining a Temporary Use Permit through the LTC.

In his report, Drew noted there are only two valid Temporary Use Permits for STVRs, with one more pending in the application process.

However, staff estimate that there are approximately 12 unlawful STVRs operating in the Gabriola Local Trust Area, as advertised on the internet. Two of those are rooms for rent, the others for entire homes.

Drew said he was asking Trustees for direction on where to go in dealing with STVRs.

He suggested that his office could suspend enforcement to provide opportunity for property owners to legalize their operations through a temporary-use-permit process.

This would be done in conjunction with a public education process on what the STVR regulations and options are in the Gabriola Local Trust Area.

This could identify the difference between what an STVR is versus a Bed and Breakfast; what is lawful versus unlawful.

Drew said, “The idea is to provide STVR owners with the information they need to come into compliance with the bylaw - to get an opportunity to get the permit which the LTC provided.

“That hasn’t been taken up by STVR operators.”

He said in his experience throughout the Trust that “short-term vacation rentals are lucrative. It is very tempting to do it outside the regulation.

“If you look on Gabriola, we’ve had the STVR permit available for many years; we only have two that are current.”

He added there are two problems with STVRs.

One is individuals who operate them knowingly outside the bylaw. The other is people who don’t understand what the difference is. 

“There seems to be a general acceptance that STVRs are something people can do outside the regulation. A lot of misinformation starts flowing when you start pushing on STVR operators.”

The hope is that those operators who want to run STVRs legally will go through the permit process.

“It certainly distinguishes the people who might require enforcement from those who don’t.”

Trustee O’Sullivan said she preferred to do the education prior to enforcement.

“I think addressing the Airbnb [situation] is an issue - I think helping people understand what the current bylaws are [is a good idea].”

Trustee Mamoser said she also liked going the educational route first. But there would need to be a solution found to the STVR issue as part of the broader housing issue on Gabriola.

“It is not just about the potential 12 [currently advertised properties], but also a broader education for those who are considering an STVR. We have a rental shortage - STVRs are taking away from rental stock.”