City gearing up for STR licensing roll out

By Kirk Winter

It is expected, at the June regular meeting of Kawartha Lakes council, that members will finally approve the city-wide short-term rental (STR) bylaw. Discussions that began in 2018 appear to have reached critical mass. Aaron Sloan, manager of municipal law enforcement and licensing, believes that his department will start responding to STR complaints as detailed in the new bylaw immediately.

Sloan told the Advocate that the municipality is planning a “soft roll-out of the new licensing and enforcement program for STRs as soon as the report and bylaw are finalized by council.”

Sloan said that the soft rollout will allow STR owners to officially register their premises in 2023, and complaints can and will be responded to this summer. Sloan also believes that many important lessons will be learned this summer that will impact process and policy and guide both staff and the public in 2024.

One of the first priorities for the bylaw department will be the hiring of four new staff including an administrator, two new licensing officers and one municipal law enforcement officer to support licensing.

“The positions will be posted as soon as it is practical, following the report and adoption of the bylaw by council,” Sloan said.

When asked if these new officers will be physically available on Friday and Saturday evenings to attend to problematic STRs, Sloan was non-committal saying, “As the program develops, program needs, staff training and scheduling may be adjusted to provide greater availability and/or flexibility to investigate enforcement issues.”

The presence of officers overnight on weekends has been a primary demand of both those who have had problems with STRs and councillors including Charlie McDonald who just spent two months heading a blue-ribbon committee to put finishing touches on the STR bylaw.

An exchange of emails with Cheri Davidson, manager of communications, advertising and marketing for the city, perhaps indicates that there still might be a way to go before bylaw staff is available to deal with confrontational or dangerous situations often found at poorly managed STRs.

Davidson explained that bylaw employees are represented by CUPE 885 and that while dangerous situations are not covered by the current collective agreement, all city staff interactions are considered using interpretation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and risk assessment.

“Municipal law enforcement and licensing staff are not police officers,” Davidson said. “They are like any other employee of the corporation. Risk is assessed for each complaint visit – for example when attending a rowdy party of intoxicated people to address a noise issue, the risk would be elevated and police services would be leveraged to assist our officers.”

When asked if the OPP will be playing a more active role in enforcing the peace at rowdy STRs this summer, Sloan said that the OPP currently responds to all reported issues, with the mindset of keeping the peace.

“Going forward the municipality will provide a list of all known STR locations to all of our local emergency services to better assist with their calls to service,” Sloan said. “In a spirit of cooperation, the OPP may communicate STR related issues to the municipal law enforcement and licensing staff for investigation and application of the future STR bylaw.”

One of the sticking points in the various iterations of the STR by-law has revolved around building capacity. A number of unscrupulous STR owners have been known in the past to rent to dozens of people at a go, taxing the septic, well and parking available at the property.

In one of the most recent proposals discussed by the city this issue appears to still be front and centre. The document proposes that for each designated STR bedroom two adult renters would be maximum capacity, but that there would be no limitations on the number of children under the age of 18 that the couples bring with them.

In a hypothetical situation if that interpretation stood, a three-bedroom STR could be rented to three separate couples totaling six adults who could bring as many children (and their friends) as they wished.

When asked about this potential loophole Sloan said, “The age limit has been changed to 15 in the final version of the draft bylaw and council may choose to reduce the age limit further. Occupancy capacity has been determined in the draft bylaw based on a number of criteria provided in the application process. The premises owner will be responsible to manage septic and holding tanks use/capacity. Failure by the owner to maintain their services may result in enforcement issues.”

Sloan continued, pointing out that during complaint investigations capacity will only be one of the things officers will be looking at.

“Capacity would be of consideration during (a) hypothetical investigation and based on criteria based in the bylaw,” Sloan said. “However, the larger issue (will) likely be the associated noise and rowdyism. (With that in mind) the bylaw includes a requirement that all renters be recorded by the STR owner and that the (primary) renters be over the age of 25 in un-hosted properties or over the age of 18 in hosted properties.”

Sloan cautions that those age requirements “may change further” before the draft bylaw is passed. Renters will also need to agree to a Renter’s Code of Conduct. Sloan made it very clear that “the onus is on the STR owners to ensure that the renters are compliant with the bylaws of the municipality. Renters and STR owners could be charged for violations and the STR demerit point system may apply in to specific situations, which could impact the STR owners’ license.”

Much discussion throughout the formulation of the STR bylaw has focused on the cost of the potential license and what the city could do to ensure that there are more landlords on site. Unlike previous documents where there was but one fee and all licenses were for the full calendar year, the latest version of the bylaw creates four levels of licensing each with an individual cost.

A part-time license (likely for either the summer or winter season only) will be $150 if the owners live onsite and $750 if they are absentee. A year-round license will be $300 for a hosted STR and $1,500 for a non-hosted STR.

Appeals regarding the licensing procedure will cost the STR owner $400.

During previous bylaw deliberations, Sloan found himself under pressure from councillors wanting specific changes including reduced licensing costs which appear to have happened, outright exemptions for those who only rent to friends and family and those whose cottages are so far away from others that noise from a rowdy rental would not impact neighbours.

Sloan said the new bylaw will focus on STRs that are being used “as a business rental. Rental is the key concept to consider.”

Sloan rejected specific exemptions saying, “providing a list of exemptions increases the declaration demand on the STR owner and potentially the issues that enforcement staff may need to inspect and/or investigate.”

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