At a public meeting on Monday, October 30, Cobourg Council once again presented their proposed rezoning and licensing by-law to legalize Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA). Currently, Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts (B & Bs) are legal but STRAs are not although the Town is doing nothing about these illegal establishments. They are illegal because they are not permitted by zoning anywhere in Cobourg so the Town plans to remedy this by rezoning. In addition, a By-law will require STRAs to be licensed and several STRA owners made it clear that the requirements of the proposed regulation could well make them no longer viable. Director Brent Larmer presented a summary of the proposed requirements and highlights of these are provided below.
Most of the presenters were STRA owners (I counted 12) – some with just one unit but others were investors with many units. None were happy with the proposed changes. There were four others who favoured at least regulating STRAs – including Brad Wilcox, owner of Cobourg’s Best Western Hotel. Brad accepted STRs as originally conceived but said that when a single owner has multiple units, it becomes a commercial operation and should be subject to the same rules and taxes as a hotel.
Proposed Re-zoning and Licensing of STRAs – highlights
- Maximum 3 bedrooms per unit with a maximum of 2 occupants per room.
- STRAs would be treated the same as a B & B
- Accessory Dwelling units not permitted as STRAs – that would exclude add-ons on the same property.
- STRAs may only operate for up to 180 days per year. As was pointed out by presenters, this would make some units not viable. [Maybe they could convert to long term rental units?]
- If the unit is a Condo, a licence will only be granted if the Condo rule permits this (Licensing bylaw para 6.1.f).i.
- Contact info must be provided: 24/7 with a one hour response time.
- The zoning by-law says that STRAs “shall only be permitted on a lot where the landowner occupies one (1) of the dwelling units and meets the criteria of a Principal Dwelling Residence.”
- Staff are still investigating cases where owners do not reside at the property – these are not yet covered in the drafts.
Grant Hayes, who is president of the two major Condo management companies in Cobourg and manages 2200 units, said that people buying Condos did not want to be part of what would essentially be a hotel. Council and staff did not respond and a comment from an audience person summed it up – “enforcing Condo rules is not the Town’s responsibility”. However, see item 5 above.
- As is the case with other by-laws, enforcement would be re-active and not pro-active. That is, nothing will happen unless there is a complaint.
- When involved, by-law officers will check that the STRA is “complying with the terms and conditions of the licence”.
- That the “STR and renters are complying with other Town by-laws (e.g. noise, property standards, parking etc. ).”
- Violations would be subject to fines of $500 per day up to $100,000.
- By-law enforcement by By-Law officers is not available on weekends when most infractions occur.
Tourism and other factors
- Several presenters said that Tourism is important to Cobourg and they typically spend more than $100 per day on top of their STRA fee.
- A few presenters mentioned that they belonged to a group called “Responsible Hosting Cobourg” and were adamant that few STRA owners had any problems. Council and Staff were asked “what problem is being addressed?”
- They also pointed to the fact that STRAs were less than 1% of households so had little impact on the housing problem. There was also disagreement on exactly how many STRAs there are in Cobourg – one count was as few as 58.
- Two presenters pointed to the need for different rules for large Heritage Homes which have more than 3 bedrooms and could even be a Tourist attraction.
- Some presenters said that they operated only one unit and it provided necessary income.
Mayor Lucas Cleveland said that the purpose of the meeting was to get public input and generate public engagement and this has been achieved. No decisions would be made at the meeting.
Director Brent Larmer said that a balance is needed between the pros and cons and these included considering Tourism and housing supply. He said there was no standardized approach although staff were looking at what other municipalities had done.
It was not announced what the next steps will be although presumably staff will modify the Zoning and Licensing by-laws and present them for approval at a future Council meeting.
- Report on previous Council discussion of STRAs – 25 September 2023
- Draft Re-zoning Bylaw
- Draft Licensing by-Law