City exploring digital monitoring to crack down on illegal vacation rentals

Third-party online monitoring services could help improve on the current complaint-based enforcement of the vacation rental bylaw.

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There are numerous websites that list vacation rentals in Revelstoke, including VRBO.com pictured here. Photo: Screenshot of Revelstoke rentals on VRBO.com

The City of Revelstoke is looking to up the ante when it comes to enforcing its vacation rental bylaw. Nigel Whitehead, director of development services, said city staff are researching ways to improve current regulations for vacation rentals, particularly illegal vacation rentals.

Part of those improvements could include the use of a third-party contractor to help the city crack down on illegal vacation rentals by monitoring online vacation rental websites such as Airbnb, Expedia and TripAdvisor.

“It’s not something the city is able to do, but there are some third party contractors who can get an estimate based on how many nights a place is available,” said Whitehead.

Revelstoke’s vacation rental bylaw is currently only enforced on a complaint basis, something the city has received flack for from various residents and tourism industry professionals. Whitehead said the city is challenged by limitations in how it can gather information about illegal vacation rentals. It’s up to the owners to report income earned through vacation rentals to tax authorities.

Similarly, when it comes to residential property insurance, homeowners are only required to declare if they have a vacation rental suite in their home. Insurance brokers operate under strict privacy laws that prohibit them from passing on information about whether a suite of any type is legal or not.

“As long as we have full disclosure on the risk to insurance we will cover [the homeowner],” said Randy Driediger, general manager of RCU Insurance. “The adjuster isn’t going to go to city hall and ask if they have a permit.”

Whitehead said city staff are preparing to present options to help improve bylaw enforcement of vacation rentals, including the use of online monitoring, to council sometime in early March.

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