Saturday, May 25, 2024

Council is Seeking Input on Short-Term Rentals – Get Involved!

Short-term rentals have been a hot topic over the past year, so hot that back in June council made it their top priority. They gave direction to municipal staff to lay the groundwork that would allow council to approve a licensing bylaw by the end of this year, an aggressive timeline, but one that council feels can be met.

Council suggested that the process could be accelerated by having staff review what other communities have done to address the short-term rental issue, and using those communities as models in the creation of Meaford’s own licensing bylaw.

On Monday, council was presented with a 17-page report outlining what other communities have or have not done to address the issue. Also on Monday, the opportunities for public input on the topic began with the launch of a public input survey, and the announcement of a full day public input session to be held on October 24.

Members of council have been clear that they both understand the importance of the short-term rental industry to the local economy, and they recognize that, like any industry, negative impacts can be felt by the community, particularly in the absence of any regulation. Council has also been clear that they hope to hear from the wide range of stakeholders during public engagement, through the survey and the in-person input sessions to be held on October 24.

So if you have opinions on the issue, whether for or against, council wants to hear from you, hence the public engagement process has begun.

I would encourage all who have thoughts on the issue to get involved. As much as council and municipal staff need to hear from residents who have had negative experiences with a short-term rental property in their own neighbourhoods, they also need to hear from owners of short-term rental properties, companies that service those properties like cleaning companies, grass cutting services, or general property maintenance companies. It will also be important for council to hear from businesses in the tourism sector, who, in the absence of a healthy stock of hotels and motels in the community, count on short-term rental properties to draw tourists here to stay for a weekend or longer, spending their precious tourist dollars at local restaurants and shops.

Though some have characterized the push by council to establish a short-term accommodations licensing bylaw as being ‘anti-short-term rentals’, or, some have even suggested that council wants to ‘shut down short-term rentals’ because of a handful of complaints. In reality council has been clear that they understand the importance of the industry, but note that like any other industry, regulations are required in order for the best version of the industry to thrive, while the worst of the industry can be more easily addressed when problems arise.

While much of the focus over the past year has been on the limited number of formal complaints made to the municipality about short-term rental properties, and the horror stories of neighbours becoming frustrated with a short-term rental that has become a ‘party house’, there are many things to consider when it comes to short-term rentals.

Not all short-term rental properties become party houses, of course. Most never cause any problem at all, but they all have the potential to do so; all it takes is just one bad booking, and an entire neighbourhood can find itself frustrated.

With roughly 200 short-term rentals advertised in this municipality at any given time, the fact that there have been so few formal complaints made speaks to the fact that most short-term rentals cause no problems at all for neighbouring property owners. And in fact, many go completely unnoticed; there is very likely one in your own neighbourhood of which you are completely unaware.

The low numbers of formal complaints don’t however mean that those complaints aren’t valid; they very much are, and there is always much to learn from the negative experiences that can help to form effective regulations that both protect the community and support what has grown into an important industry in this and many other communities.

So the ball is now in the court of residents and local stakeholders. It is time to get involved in the process, to help form the most effective licensing bylaw for this community; one that will give residents some peace of mind, while at the same time supporting the local tourism industry.

The public survey launched on Monday, and you have until November 5 to complete the survey, which can be found by visiting www.meaford.ca/STA. If you prefer to complete a hard copy of the survey, it can be found at the municipal administration office on Trowbridge Street.

In-person public input will be collected during a full day of public input sessions to be held on October 24 at Meaford Hall. The input sessions begin at 8 a.m. and run through to 9 p.m., allowing for folks to arrange to provide input at a time that is convenient to them. You can RSVP by emailing ecdev@meaford.ca and indicate the session you would prefer to attend.

If short-term rentals impact your life, either in a negative way from experiences in your neighbourhood, or if your livelihood relies on them either as a property owner or as a service provider, I encourage everyone to get involved and provide input through the survey or by attending an input session.

The input provided by residents and other stakeholders is crucial, as staff will use that input to help form the licensing bylaw and associated regulations that council hopes to approve by the end of this year. So get involved and be part of the process, because the more input received, the better the end product will be.

For more information, and to complete the survey, visit www.meaford.ca/STA.

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