City of Revelstoke signals active crackdown on illegal vacation rentals

A new report by the City of Revelstoke's Development Services department is casting a sunset on the era of proliferating illegal vacation rentals operating without permits, taxation and only complaints-based enforcement. We explore the report, which recommends of setting a cap on the number of vacation rentals allowed, and proposes active bylaw enforcement.

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Vacation rentals are a popular side business for residents in Revelstoke. Photo: Screenshot Airbnb

The City of Revelstoke has unveiled sweeping new changes to deal with the issue of vacation rentals.

While over the years these operations have mostly cohabited peacefully in local residential areas, as their numbers have grown and so has opposition.

The Revelstoke Accommodation Association, the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce and some neighbours have been vocal against them. They have been seen in a negative light for avoiding commercial tax, benefitting without contributing to the paid tourism marketing that advertises Revelstoke to the world, and for noise and parking disturbances.

After a direction from city council, manager of development services Dean Strachan has undertaken a review of the state of vacation rentals in Revelstoke, which he will present at the city council meeting on Tuesday, June 14.

“There is a portion of the tourist accommodation market that is looking specifically for vacation rental accommodation,” he stated in the report. “This market is not likely to find desired accommodation in the community if a vacation rental home is not available, they will instead look to alternate resort destinations where this form of accommodation is available.”

Strachan has recommended community consultation before his regulations are enacted where the city will change its stance from a passive complaint-based bylaw enforcement to actively seeking out illegal operations. The report recommends a one-month public comment period on the proposed bylaw from June 20 to July 20.

He has also recommended a maximum be applied to the number of vacations rentals allowed in the city. This would be a percentage of the existing accommodation in the community and reflective of market demand.

“The establishment of a maximum would likely become an incentive unto itself for legalization as owners realize they could at some point not have the option to legalize as the maximum has been reached,” Strachan wrote.

The gravity of this issue is highlighted by the figures.

In September 2015, the city estimated 60 vacation rentals operated and their numbers increased over winter to 100, with a total of about 300 bedrooms.

In the 2013/14 winter season, before adoption of the zoning bylaw, 10 complaints were received. The following 2014/15 year, one. This past 2015/16 winter season, four, although three had multiple complaints.

To date the city has received 16 applications from property owners wishing to rezone to the vacation rental subzone. Nine have been approved thus far.

The future of vacation rentals in Revelstoke includes the possibility of operators gaining membership with the RAA and in return, possibly advertising for their operation.

The provincial government is also reviewing this issue and city councils are hoping for new legislation that will ensure vacation rentals begin to contribute in taxes to level the playing field with commercial accommodations.

At this point, it’s just a report that’s headed for the June 14 council meeting for a decision. The meeting should be an interesting one; recent meetings have seen increasing numbers of vacation rental opponents show up to oppose specific bylaw applications.

Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce resolution on vacation rentals passes at B.C. Chamber AGM

In related news, the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce presented a successful motion at the B.C. Chamber’s AGM in late May. The motion called on the provincial government to tax vacation rentals at the point of purchase.

The so-called “sharing economy” resolution calls for Airbnb and similar sharing-economy operators in the accommodation sector to pay appropriate PST and Municipal and Regional Destination Tax.

“The sharing economy brings exciting new business models and opportunities to British Columbians and Chambers are keen to see this new sector succeed,” said Maureen Kirkbride, BC Chamber interim CEO. “That said, we need to integrate these new models wisely to make sure we’re providing a level playing field for our existing businesses.”

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For background, read City of Revelstoke Development Services manager Dean Strachan’s report here.

Get the backstory with the Revelstoke Mountaineer’s gallery of stories on vacation rentals.

What do you think of this report? Is the city on the right path, or has it lost its way?

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Emily Kemp is a staff reporter for the Revelstoke Mountaineer. She's an experienced news journalist with a background in daily newspapers and radio. Contact Emily by email at [email protected] or by phone at 250-272-1773.