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 four months, our neighbourhood, in the Hydrostone area of Halifax, has had that experience. We do not recommend it.
About a year ago, sadly, 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 once the repairs were made. We looked forward to a new neighbour. Unfortunately, a few months later, he told us he intended to operate through Airbnb. He has not and does not live in the property.
This was not good news for our street and neighbourhood. Many of the neighbours are long time residents as well as new, who rent long-term or own their properties. 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 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 added attraction for an Airbnb but you can't sustain a neighbourhood with only visitors.
Over the last few months we have seen a steady stream of renters who have created havoc for the adjacent properties. There have been a number of disturbances with people coming and going at all hours, partying, fighting and enough noise and disruption to involve police on three occasions, including an arrest. We dread the coming of summer. As one neighbour said, “It's exhausting”.
As much as we have been disturbed by the disruption there are more fundamental issues with short-term rentals in a residential neighbourhood. We lose a neighbour and instead get a revolving number of strangers with no commitment or responsibility to the neighbourhood. It is a threat to the sustainability of our neighbourhood. Attempts have already been made to purchase other properties for the same purpose. The use of neighbourhood properties for short-term rentals, particularly by owners who do not reside in the property, rob our community supply of good affordable housing for rent and purchase. These kind of properties are essentially ghost hotels where the neighbours end up managing all the problems.
In opposition to this situation we have contacted both our Provincial and Municipal governments asking for regulation. We have asked government to ensure that the “neighbourhood perspective” is sought in any consultation on regulation not just the perspective of “tourism”. Recently, the Provincial government in Nova Scotia has enacted two Bills that seek to bring some regulation to the situation. Bill 101 will allow short-term rentals by primary residents to operate without “registration” while those operated by “non-residents” will have to register as well as the platforms, such as Airbnb, that advertise the properties. Bill 99 has indicated that those operating short-term accommodations, in many cases, will not be considered commercial properties. It is not clear if “non primary resident” short-term rentals will benefit from that exemption. We have told both levels of government in formal submissions, meetings and through the media that short-term rentals, where the owner is not a primary resident, should be zoned and taxed as commercial properties. It is our hope that, if so designated, they will not be allowed in Residential land use zones so as to protect and sustain neighbourhoods and protect adequate, affordable housing.
Bills 101 and 99 will not be implemented until March 2020. In the meantime, the Province will consult with municipalities and, hopefully, neighbourhoods on the content of the Regulations that will accompany the Acts. In addition to the above there are a number of areas that need regulatory attention. We will continue to press both the Province and Municipalities to enact neighbourhood-sustaining rules and regulations and will inform and enlist the support of our neighbourhood and the larger community in this effort.
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