We are a group of concerned neighbours in Halifax's North End speaking up about the impact short-term rentals are having in our community.
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You have probably stayed in an Airbnb or similar short-term rental property but have you ever lived next to one? Over the last two years our neighbourhood, in the Hydrostone area of Halifax, has had that experience. We do not recommend it.
About two years ago a long-time resident of our neighbourhood passed away. Eventually, her property was sold and extensively renovated by the new owner. He indicated he loved the neighbourhood and intended to rent the property once the repairs were complete. We looked forward to a new neighbour. Unfortunately, a few months later, he told us he intended to rent the property on a short-term basis through Airbnb but would not live in the property.
This was not good news for our street and neighbourhood. Many of the neighbours own their own properties or rent long-term. The housing is mainly garden home row housing that dates back one hundred years. It is a very supportive and co-operative neighbourhood where faces are familiar and people stay in touch regarding local social events, open houses, sales and street picnics. It is a safe and attractive place for families to live. It is designated as an Historic site and was deemed one of Canada's “best neighbourhoods” by the American Planners Association. Presumably that was an attraction for the new property owner for an Airbnb. However, you can't sustain a neighbourhood with only visitors.
Our experience with the operation of the Airbnb rental was not pleasant. There were a steady stream of renters who created havoc for the adjacent properties. There were a number of disturbances with people coming and going at all hours, parties, fighting and enough noise and disruption to involve the police on three occasion, including an arrest. As one neighbour said, “ It's exhausting”. Since then there have been a number of short-term rentals that have started up in streets near to our neighbourhood and around the city. Other communities across the country and internationally have experienced similar challenges. You can read about them in the News section on our web site.
As much as we were disturbed by the disruption there are more fundamental issues with short-term rentals in a residential neighbourhood. We lose neighbours and instead get a revolving door of strangers that have no commitment nor responsibility to the neighbourhood. Short-term rentals, where there is no primary resident, threaten the sustainability of our neighbourhoods. Because of the revenue potential of short-term rentals, other properties become vulnerable for purchase and similar use, eventually hollowing out a neighbourhood. The use of neighbourhood properties for short-term rentals, particularly by owners who do not reside in the property, rob our communities of the supply of good affordable housing for rent and purchase. These kinds of properties are essentially 'ghost hotels' where the neighbours end up managing all the problems.
In opposition to this situation we have continued to communicate with our municipal and provincial governments to bring regulation to this growing and troubling phenomenon. We established our web site and reached out to other residents around the city and province to come forward with their concerns. We heard from well over one hundred residents who had similar concerns and made their views known to government. We connected with others across the country who are also working for legislation in this area, such as Fairbnb in Toronto which works with many similar community organizations. We assisted in the sponsorship of a public meeting to highlight a McGill University study on Short-term Rentals in Halifax, which you can see under our Events page on the web site. We have asked others to take action and provided tools to help out. You can access this information and sample letters on our Take Action section on our site. We continue to ask government to ensure that 'neighbourhood' and 'community housing supply' factors are included in any discussion and policy-making and ask others to bring that message as well.
On April 1, 2020, the Provincial government implemented the Tourist Accommodation Registration Act and Regulations. You can see this Act on our Legislation page. Essentially, this policy is aimed at 'levelling the playing field' for those who provide tourist accommodation around the province be they hotel, motel or an apartment or house being rented. Ideally, it will also provide registration information to other departments and, hopefully, municipalities who can bring in their own regulation in relation to neighbourhoods and housing. The Act requires all property owners who operate a short-term rental business to register with the Province. However, those who operate a short-term rental from the home or apartment they live in (what we call, 'primary residents') will not have to register. We are not in agreement with this latter aspect. How will the government be able to identify and enforce regulation if all are not registered? In addition, knowing the extent of all short-term rental activity provides data to manage tourism as well as land-use planning. We had also hoped that the Province would require all short-term rentals to put their 'registration number' on their advertisements on Airbnb and other platforms. That has not occurred as yet. We had also advocated to both levels of government that where the owner of a short-term rental is not a 'primary resident', they should be taxed as a 'commercial property'. This would help to discourage the development of short-term rentals in residential areas and buildings. Unfortunately, the Province has regulated that anyone who operates a short-term rental of four rooms or less, regardless of whether they are a 'primary resident' or a commercial business, will only be required to pay the 'residential tax rate'. We believe that will, unfortunately, encourage commercial short-term rentals in residential areas and building. We will continue to advocate for a change of that regulation.
At the municipal level, in the Halifax Regional Municipality, the Community Planning and Economic Development Committee were tasked with making recommendations on short-term rentals. They conducted a wide survey of the community, receiving more than three thousand responses. On September 30, 2020, Council approved a staff recommendation to bring in regulations that would register all property owners who provide short-term rentals in residential areas. It is envisaged this 'registry' will be accomplished in co-operation with the Provincial registry, data from on-line platforms and the region-wide rental property registration project that has been in the works. In general, we are in agreement with the HRM proposal as it builds on work that is being done elsewhere in Canada and internationally. You can see a description of the HRM recommendations in the Legislation section of our web site.
At present, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, progress on moving policy and policy implementation forward has been delayed. Similarly, there has been a drop in demand for short-term rentals as travel has diminished worldwide. We expect this demand will increase as the vaccine distribution increases and travel resumes. It is important that we remain attentive to the developments in short-term rental regulation and ensure their effective implementation.
There is still much to do. Our follow-up with both the Province and HRM continues. If you have concerns with short-term rentals let your Councillor and MLA know and stay involved to see that policy and regulations are implemented.
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