Council agrees to license short-term rentals but no details of plan have been decided

By Kirk Winter

Council is divided on what such a bylaw might look like.

Kawartha Lakes council agreed to move forward on a program of registering and licensing short-term rentals (STRs), but until a council task force reports back sometime before June 30, residents of the city will have little idea what this new bylaw will look and operate like.

“We need to get staff started on the licensing program,” Mayor Doug Elmslie said, “but give council more time to work on what they would like to see in the bylaw. We need to be able to give staff direction today. Folks are suffering (by living next door to poorly managed STRs) and they need to hear that something was done today.”

With that call for action in mind, a fractious council unanimously approved the idea to license and regulate STRs in Kawartha Lakes using a demerit points system that could eventually cost an irresponsible short-term rental owner their license. But that was all they could agree upon.

Over the last three or four meetings, it has become clear there is little agreement among councillors on a whole series of specifics regarding STRs, including what constitutes an STR, how much licenses will cost, what current STRs might be exempted because of their location and who they are renting to, what fines might be enforced and whether the bylaw has any reason for existence. For instance, if the city cannot have staff available to work the overnight hours on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer, when virtually all the complaints regarding drinking, noise, fireworks and dangerous bonfires are reported, then how might enforcement work?

To deal with the significant divisions that currently exist between councillors over STRs, council approved the creation of a task force featuring Ward Seven Councillor Charlie McDonald, Deputy-Mayor Tracy Richardson, Ward Three Councillor Mike Perry and Ward Four Councillor Dan Joyce.

This task force will have the delicate job of producing the specifics that will make up the new bylaw.

Despite the unanimity of the vote taken to begin crafting a licensing and regulating bylaw, a number of councillors were upset that the discussions would not occur at a council or committee of the whole meeting and that some councillors might not have their concerns heard as much as those who were voted onto the task force.

Ward Two Councillor Pat Warren was one of those dissenting voices.

“I thought we were going to deal with our concerns with the bylaw at the next committee of the whole where everyone would get a say,” Warren said.

Perry agreed. “Committee of the Whole should be the route to go. It is more inclusive and transparent. We need to get this done by the end of May.”

McDonald and Joyce opposed another go around at a committee of the whole meeting believing it “will only slow things down.”

“At committee of the whole there is too much talk, talk, talk,” McDonald said. “We need to fast track this. Let’s get the working group (task force) together and get this done. Currently we have no real enforcement and it is needed.”

Richardson agreed with McDonald and Joyce suggesting that the STR issue needs to be addressed, and the enforcement issue “needs to be nailed down.”

While unhappy with the structure decided upon, Warren agreed that speed is necessary with another cottage season on the horizon.

Ward Five Councillor Eric Smeaton said he was happy with the choice of any councillor to serve on the task force believing that all wards would be heard equally during the deliberations. Smeaton also urged speed in putting together the specific bylaw saying “let’s get this (task force recommendations) to a vote.”

Ward Six Councillor Ron Ashmore agreed with Warren and Smeaton, encouraging his colleagues to get “this (bylaw) done sooner than later as violations are going on. We need enforcement now. I am worried we may miss the cottage season this year.”

Chief Administrative Officer Ron Taylor echoed Ashmore’s concerns saying “we may not be enforcing a new one (bylaw) until next year” because there is still not a STR bylaw ready to go.

Ward One Councillor Emmett Yeo asked that he not serve on the task force despite the number of STRs in his ward, preferring to be devil’s advocate when the group brings back their findings.

Yeo was very keen to see effective enforcement in the overnight hours front and centre in any new bylaw discussed by council once the taskforce has completed its job.

Elmslie told council that he will be meeting with the Community Policing Advisory Committee (CPAC) on Monday April 24 and that this discussion will be on the agenda. 

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