Licensing Airbnb in Cobourg

At the Council meeting on June 28, 2021, Cobourg resident Anne-Marie Jackson complained about problems from an Airbnb establishment on Blake Street.  She had concerns about parking, parties with loud and disruptive guests, drug and criminal activity  (and as a result, increased police activity) and noise. Complaints to Airbnb went unanswered.  She also included a petition from 35 residents.  As a result, Council directed staff to investigate regulating Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA) and present their report at the November 15 Committee of the Whole (CoW) meeting.  The Agenda for the October 25 CoW meeting includes this report – it’s early!  Staff reviewed the options and recommend both a revision of the Zoning By-Law and the establishment of a requirement to license such establishments.

Anne-Marie was specific in her request – see Specific Request by Anne-Marie Delegation in Resources below.

Options Considered by Staff (Brent Larmer)

  1. Reactive Approach – Existing Frameworks Not recommended since existing policies may not encompass the desired scope that a new Zoning By-law and/or Licensing mechanism can entail. It is also very cumbersome, costly and would be challenging to have the Courts stop the use from occurring and only deal with some of the nuisance issues such as noise and parking.
  2. Pre-emptive Approach – Amend the Town’s Zoning By-law  Not recommended since the implementation of a zoning standard does not address ongoing/existing STRAs and creates legal nonconforming fragmentation between new and existing sites and creates an uneven playing field amongst operators of STRAs. A new zoning standard would also not deal with site inspections, safety, garbage or other compliance issues that would need to be defined in a licencing By-law.
  3. Administrative Approach – Licensing STRAs
    The benefits of requiring STRA licences are as follows:
  • The Town will know the location of all legal STRAs;
  • The Town can require the Owner to follow all applicable health and safety standards;
  • If necessary, the Town may be able to suspend, revoke or to refuse to renew the Licence of an operator who has violated the Zoning By-law, who has consistently allowed the dwelling to be a source of a nuisance to others in the community or who no longer qualifies to operate a STRA; and
  • The Town may introduce a Code of Conduct to establish accountability on behalf of the owners and renters.

The downside is the cost of administering and enforcement although some costs would be recovered by the licensing fee.  Based on existing licensing fees, this would be $500 for initial licensing of each property and $250 for renewal.

In formulating the By-Law, Staff will be looking at what other Municipalities are doing – notably Oshawa which is what Anne-Marie Jackson recommended (see list in resources below).

Next Steps

Staff are asking Council for direction to prepare a new by-law to establish a requirement to License STRAs plus revise the Zoning by-law.  Before this is done, a survey would be held using Engage Cobourg and before final approval, a public meeting would be held to get feedback from the public and current operators of STRAs.

Resources

Specific request by Anne-Marie Delegation

We request that the council consider regulations for short-term rentals, such as those put in place by the City of Oshawa on September 30, 2020. This ensures Short Term Rental Owners (S.T.R) must be licensed and adhere to guidelines which intend to limit and license short term rental properties. We have included these below for your convenience:

  • Enhance the enforcement of the Zoning By-law provision that requires a Short-Term Rental (S.T.R.) to be the principal resident of the S.T.R. Operator;
  • Introduce a requirement to have a local contact available at all times to respond to issues and who is available to attend to the S.T.R. within a period of no greater than one (1) hour from the time of contact by telephone or email;
  • Introduce insurance requirements;
  • Enhance the enforcement of the Zoning By-law provision that restricts S.T.R. operations to less than twenty-eight (28) consecutive days and no more than one hundred and eighty (180) days in a calendar year;
  • Limit the number of rooms to two (2) with a maximum of two (2) occupants in each when renting by the room;
  • Enhance the enforcement of the Zoning By-law provision that prohibits any other rental use within a dwelling unit that contains an S.T.R.; and,
  • Introduce a Visitor’s Code that would provide information about relevant City by-laws to S.T.R. renters.

Addendum

Committee of the Whole Decision – 25 October 2021

The recommendations by Brent Larmer as outlined above were approved with the addition that the staff analysis would include the pros and cons of applying a 4% tax to STRA (but not other accommodation).

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David
22 October 2021 4:13 pm

“…concerns about parking, parties with loud and disruptive guests, drug and criminal activity (and as a result, increased police activity) and noise.”

These aforementioned concerns are already covered by existing by-laws and the criminal code. Why is it necessary to introduce more bylaws instead of enforcing the ones that already exist?

Mrs. Anonymous
Reply to  David
22 October 2021 7:36 pm

The problem is that expecting to use police/by laws is wildly inefficient and costly.

The problem owners are typically absent, and difficult to track down. Each week, or weekend, there is a new crop of renters which may or may not be a problem.

Expecting the police/by law to take on this task is a good example of privatizing profits and socializing the costs.

Kevin
Reply to  Mrs. Anonymous
23 October 2021 9:07 am

Mrs. Anonymous do you have a recommendation? The first 2 of 3 options are not recommended by staff. Option 3 will require enforcement. Maybe a licencing fee will cover the cost of enforcement. Any STRAs that are not licenced will still be costly to deal with regardless which of the 3 options, or making no changes, is selected. This cost will come from either the licenced STRAs or general tax revenues. There are problems now so we can either plan on the best way to deal with the problems or try to use existing rules/by-laws to deal with them. I do not know what the best answer is.

Mrs. Anonymous
Reply to  Kevin
26 October 2021 9:34 am

Kevin, I am not sure what the answer is at this point either. Unfortunately STR wasn’t nipped in the bud at municipal levels everywhere which has lead to these complications.

Traditional Bed and breakfast has operated for years without problem as owners are typically on site and most often need some kind of business license. Similarly, short term rentals of approx. 1-4 months to fulfil the needs of those caught between housing issues (renovation/moving) and work placements. These operations are not the problem.

My preference would be for an outright ban on non owner occupied STR less than 28 days. Given that this is unlikely to fly, I can only hope that through regulation, the fines/fees/policing costs represent the true cost of regulation and are borne by the operators and guests and not subsidized by Cobourg citizens.
The danger is that by setting the rates too low it becomes just a cost of doing business.

JimT
Reply to  Mrs. Anonymous
23 October 2021 9:46 am

It’s easy to imagine a situation where the police have to spend all their time after dark going from one hotspot to another, dealing with noise and crowding complaints, to the exclusion of all other tasks.

Gerinator
22 October 2021 1:52 pm

I think Old Sailor has it right. I congratulate the Staff for getting this report out and getting the ball rolling in terms of dealing with this growing nuisance. If AIRb&b can’t control its users then the Town (& citizenry) needs to protect itself; even more so given the ‘I don’t give a shit’ and ‘freedom to do what/when I want’ cultures seem to be on the climb.

Beach walker
22 October 2021 12:18 pm

I have used AIRBNB all over the world. I never knew that there were any negative reputations toward them. Then, one day, a nasty neighbor started a rumour that I was running one out of my Cobourg home. It wasn’t true, but I sure learned what was important to people on my street. I no longer live on that street.

Mrs. Anonymous
Reply to  Beach walker
22 October 2021 7:00 pm

To have not realized that there have been negative associations with Airbnb indicates a stunning lack of awareness, naïveté, or perhaps entitlement.

People love using Airbnb; I get that. Almost no one like living next door to one, unless it’s a very wide lot. Airbnb used to use the tag line “ live like a local”. However most locals don’t want to “live like a tourist” with the steady parade of strangers and absentee owners in their neighbourhood.

Kevin
Reply to  Beach walker
23 October 2021 9:22 am

Beach walker, are you implying you moved because a neighbour started a rumour? Would it be reasonable to conclude that this is a very important issue to some residents? Important enough that they may decide to move if a neighbour actually operates an Airbnb? If this is true then council should take this issue very seriously. As pointed out in the post and comments, other areas have tried various things so hopefully we can learn from this experience and make a good decision.

Dave
22 October 2021 9:09 am

Airbnb accommodations proved to be a lifesaver for us last year when we were homeless due to a construction delay. The owners of both units that we rented said our circumstances were not unusual. Both units came with rules (including no parties) that we were happy to follow.
I hope whatever approach the town takes will recognize that many Airbnb’s are well run and occupied by responsible renters.

Rob
21 October 2021 4:50 pm

I hope a balance can be struck…this shouldn’t be overly restrictive or prescriptive. Allow the police and by-law to do their job…Cobourg isn’t exactly a hub for 20-somethings looking to Airbnb party.

The suggestion above would limit a family of 5 which isn’t uncommon and is a primary reason people choose Airbnb vs. renting multiple hotel rooms.

So many Cobourg residents suffer from chronic NIMBY-ism – No strangers, beach-goers, Uber, Airbnb, loud music, etc, etc, etc… tax, charge, fee for service, user pay, admin. fee, license fees … its all a little much sometimes

JimT
Reply to  Rob
22 October 2021 8:20 am

I do agree. As I’ve said here before:
“Cobourg is Ontario’s ‘no you can’t’ town.”

Sandpiper
Reply to  JimT
22 October 2021 8:40 am

No-Burg

MiriamM
21 October 2021 3:44 pm

Short term rentals have presented an issue of concern around the world, especially in destination locations. Local citizens have a more difficult time securing affordable long term rental places to live, and, neighbourhoods become unstable and less safe as long term permanent residents become fewer in number, among other things. And, I understand that insurance rates can skyrocket. This past summer a new trend of renting out the backyard pool for a few hours. Short term rentals can be a great part of travel experience. Good idea that Council address this now when so much attention is being given to addressing affordable housing.

Sandpiper
Reply to  MiriamM
22 October 2021 8:39 am

If its a profession of the owner then is it not Commercial ? Many people do not live here or in them & own more than 1 Air B&B and what about Fire and health regulations like exit lights etc.
These facilities also steel income away from our Hotel industry
and these types of facilities are known for certain activities that would not be allowed or condoned in a licenced facility or hotel .

Matt
21 October 2021 2:44 pm

I’m not sure 35 names on a petition should be a sufficient threshold to warrant Council to be directing staff to investigate and report by a certain date on anything.

The reported low morale around town hall could have something to do with this.

GailR
Reply to  Matt
21 October 2021 4:27 pm

Maybe not many names on the petition because not many people knew about it. I would certainly have signed had I known. Anyway, this would not be the first time the Town has been asked to address the issue of Air BnBs. I thought I had read somewhere that some locations insist that only accommodation inside a house occupied by the owner is eligible to be used this way.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Matt
22 October 2021 8:33 am

35 Names by affected people and families in the immediate neighbourhood should be more than enough if its a localized issue why would the whole town have to be involved just to get the Police or By Law activated . We have experienced this in our little 26 home
cul-de-sac and it was very unpleasant for every one here for over a yr
until we brought in a lawyer

Matt
Reply to  Sandpiper
22 October 2021 8:18 pm

We’re asking the same question: “If it’s a localized issue, why would the whole town need to get involved…?”

Getting police and by-law involved shouldn’t require a petition, much less Council directing staff to investigate and report.

If there’s a problem with, “increased criminal activity” then call the police–and if it’s an ongoing problem, then make the effort to work with police on an ongoing basis to address that problem. If there’s increased drug activity, then start taking down license plate #’s of cars that repeatedly show up for 5 minutes, then leave and then give that list to the police. In my experience, if there is a legitimate issue, they are going to appreciate the help.

My point is that there are ways to effectively make these things better without marching to Council with your petition and demanding they license/bylaw whatever’s bothering you out of existence.

All of these directives to investigate and report land on someone’s desk and if it were my desk, I wouldn’t be pleased at the percentage of them that were born from pearl clutching over minor nuiscances, pet-projects of loud, shrill persistent voices and the tempest in a teapot of the day from whoever has an “in” with a given Councillor.

Mrs. Anonymous
Reply to  Matt
22 October 2021 8:38 pm

Matt,
The short term rental issue, exacerbated by the rise of Airbnb is a world wide problem. You can google any major city in the world and smaller areas like NOTL, Goderich, Canmore, Haliburton /Muskoka, PEC (to name just a few) to know that areas large and small are grappling with this issue. The proliferation of investor Airbnb’s and other str platforms has negatively affected housing shortages worldwide and caused grief for home owners who never planned on living next to a commercial establishment in their residential neighbourhood.

Old Sailor
21 October 2021 1:25 pm

Prince Edward County has a 4% Municipal Accomodation Tax it levies on accomodation at hotels, motels, motor hotels, lodges, resorts and B&B’s. The tax is used to support tourism infrastructure, marketing and development. The same fee is charged in Belleville and Quinte West. Is it time Cobourg levied an accomodation tax to support tourism infrastructure, marketing and development? This would be in addition to the above annual licensing fees.

Mrs. Anonymous
Reply to  Old Sailor
26 October 2021 9:21 am

The are a few problems with the tax as I see it:
-hotels already pay commercial property taxes which are greater than residential taxes. Taxes that already support tourism departments within the town and county. Why should they be doubly taxed with the addition of a municipal accommodation tax?
-this tax does nothing to solve the root problem of commercial entities with absentee owners operating unchecked in residential areas.
-this tax legitimizes a business that has contributed to the housing affordability and availability crisis.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Mrs. Anonymous
26 October 2021 9:39 am

Anonymous, I agree that the proposed tax does nothing to solve the problem of absentee landlords. However, why do you mention:

-hotels already pay commercial property taxes which are greater than residential taxes. Taxes that already support tourism departments within the town and county. Why should they be doubly taxed with the addition of a municipal accommodation tax?

All commercial property owners pay property taxes that are greater than residential taxes. Does the tourism department assist Walmart? Does the tourism department assist Home Depot? Does the tourism department assist Metro? Why shouldn’t an accommodation tax be levied to help defray the additional costs of promoting tourism?

Bryan
Reply to  Ken Strauss
26 October 2021 9:58 am

KS:
There are some towns that have a “tourist tax”. It would be interesting to know how much “tourism” increased as a result of the increased “tourism promotion” funded by this tax.
Based on Cobourg’s experience with “tourism promotion”, I doubt it would make a significant difference.
It would also be interesting to learn what the negative effects of such a tax are. Are tourists annoyed, felt taken advantage of, pissed off as a result of this tax? Do tourists return after their first experience with the tax?
How many towns in Ontario (or Canada) have tried this tax and repealed it?

Mrs. Anonymous
Reply to  Ken Strauss
26 October 2021 10:55 am

KS,

interesting point. Do we charge manufacturer’s a surtax for economic development? A surtax for their use of heavy trucks on the road which do more damage, or surtax for business that has higher policing and by law calls? I had assumed all those things were covered under the higher mill rate for commercial to account for their extra expenses to the town compared to the typical residential use.

My other issue on the taxation front is that hotel rooms must charge HST. Many Str’s/Airbnb keep there billable numbers under the 30k threshold to avoid this tax. Some legally, others illegally by going off platform/cash deals. Hardly seems fair.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Mrs. Anonymous
26 October 2021 12:39 pm

Mrs. Anonymous, further to your points:
Why would we charge manufacturers for economic development? Most manufacturers produce their product for sale nationally and sometimes around the world. Do you think that attracting another manufacturer to Cobourg would significantly increase a local manufacturer’s sales? In any case your point is moot since Cobourg’s Economic Development Department has been largely ineffectual in attracting additional manufacturers.

I suppose that it depends on the businesses but I doubt that most businesses have higher policing/bylaw costs than residences. Do you have evidence to support the assertion?

Yes, HST is somewhat unfair but fundamental changes are far beyond the possibilities for our small municipality. I suppose that Cobourg could mandate a 13% municipal rental tax and exempt larger operations. Collecting such a tax would be challenging to enforce.