Economy
Yellowknife

‘Why are we trying to regulate Airbnbs?’ asks YK city councillor


Yellowknife’s local leaders remain divided on how to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb, more than a year after rules governing them were supposed to kick in.

On Monday, city councillors spent an hour discussing draft regulations drawn up by City Hall staff. At the end of the meeting, they appeared no closer to agreement.

The City of Yellowknife first unveiled its proposals for the regulation of Airbnbs in July 2018. At the time, the intent was for regulation to kick in by January 2019.

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One councillor even questioned why the debate was happening at all.

We’re spending a lot of time and effort regulating something that isn’t a problem.

COUNCILLOR JULIAN MORSE

“We’re continually delaying and delaying … trying to regulate something that is not a problem in this town,” said Councillor Julian Morse.

“Why are we trying to regulate it? If the answer is because it’s a problem in Toronto – that’s a city of four or five million people. It’s not Yellowknife. That’s a very different situation.

“Despite the fact we have 250 Airbnbs operating in town, our vacancy rate is increasing. As of right now, I feel like we’re spending a lot of time and effort regulating something that isn’t a problem.”

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Permits, or no permits?

A public hearing was held in January to gather feedback from residents.

Big issues still to be resolved are where short-term rentals should be allowed and how they should be licensed.

There appears broad agreement that everyone running a short-term rental should be required to get a business licence.

The sticking point is whether some operators should then be asked to get a development permit on top of that.

At the moment, the draft rules state:

  • people running a short-term rental from their primary residence (i.e. their usual home) would need a development permit;
  • people who create a short-term rental in one place but live somewhere else would not need a development permit.

Councillors Morse and Shauna Morgan want that changed so that nobody is required to get a development permit.

“I don’t see renting a room out in a house, versus renting the house out completely, as two different things,” said Morse at a meeting on Monday.

“I don’t think we should differentiate between the two, and I don’t want our staff to be burdened with development permit applications from people renting out their houses.”

By contrast, councillors Cynthia Mufandaedza, Niels Konge, and Steve Payne want things changed as follows:

  • people running a short-term rental from their primary residence (i.e. their usual home) would not need a development permit;
  • people who create a short-term rental in one place but live somewhere else would need a development permit;

That’s the reverse of the draft rules, above.

“I think it should be flipped 180,” said Konge. “If you’re living there, you definitely have more control over what is happening. If it’s a short-term rental where you don’t, it’s more difficult.”

Describing short-term rentals in downtown Toronto where nobody lives on-site, Mufandaedza said: “They are being rented out for big events, parties, and the homeowner has no control. The neighbours should at least have a say on what’s going on, and that would be the development permit aspect.”

More work to do

Where, exactly, short-term rentals would be allowed remains a mystery even to council members.

“It’s not clear, right now, where short-term rentals are allowed in our Zoning Bylaw based on the proposed definition,” Rebecca Alty, the city’s mayor, told staff at the meeting.

Alty asked staff to come back with a clear list of where, under the draft rules, short-term rentals would be allowed – and a list of pros and cons when it comes to the use of development permits to control such rentals.

“That may also help councillors trying to figure out why a development permit might be required here, but not there,” she said.

There was no tangible progress at the end of the meeting. The issue is expected to come back before councillors at a later date.

The city’s hotel industry has been pushing for short-term rentals to be regulated. A resolution adopted by the NWT Tourism board earlier this year – brought forward by the Explorer Hotel – urges the City of Yellowknife to adopt bylaws for the regulation and inspection of short-term rentals. Those bylaws would address “the unlevel playing field for accommodation providers” in Yellowknife, the resolution states.

The regulations City Hall has drafted are described as a “light approach,” intended to strike a balance between allowing residents to be part of the sharing economy while ensuring safe neighbourhoods and a “fair playing field” with other businesses providing accommodation, like bed-and-breakfasts.

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