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Cortes Island Opts in to BC Short Term Rental Act; Quadra Considering

Effective May 1, 2024, all BC communities with a population over 10,000 have to limit short term rentals to the host’s principle residence plus one secondary suite or accessory dwelling unit. Campbell River, Comox, Courtenay and Powell River are all on the list of  64 communities where this applies. Cortes Island is too small to be on that list, but has chosen to opt in, and Quadra Island is considering the idea. 

Mark Vonesch

“With that legislation came the option for smaller communities like Cortes Island, or electoral areas within the SRD, to be able to opt in. We can say, ‘yes, we want that legislation as well.’  So in December, I worked with the Cortes Housing Society and we put on a housing forum, and we put out a housing survey,”  explained Regional Director Mark Vonesch of Cortes Island. 

“What are people’s thoughts on solutions? Polling some people on some specific questions like ‘should Cortes opt into BC legislation that says you can only run an Airbnb on your primary residence property?  The results came in overwhelmingly in support of the government legislation, a ratio of 3 to 1.”

When the BC Government first announced its intention last October, the mayors of close to half of the cities where this regulation would apply declared their support.

“I’m delighted to see the provincial government stepping in to regulate short-term rentals across British Columbia. Having provincial policies, oversight, data-sharing requirements and enforcement measures will support municipal efforts to manage short-term rentals to create more homes for British Columbians,” said Marianne Alto, Mayor of Victoria.

To which Ken Sim, Mayor of Vancouver, added, “We need more support when it comes to enforcement and we are pleased to see the Province introduce these changes, with more significant consequences for those who seek to abuse the system. We are in a housing crisis and this will be a big step to ensure folks in Vancouver and across B.C. have more access to attainable housing.”

Walt Judas, CEO of theTourism Industry Association of British Columbia (TIABC) was also among those to give his endorsement, “One of the biggest challenges for tourism operators in hiring workers is the lack of available and affordable housing largely due to the proliferation of short-term rentals in B.C. So, we are very pleased with the legislation introduced by the province that will lead to a healthier balance between homes for tourism workers and visitor accommodation while also allowing municipalities the flexibility to use the tools they need to manage short-term rentals.”

Some municipalities have declared their opposition to the Short Term Rentals Regulations. 

Mayor Doug O’Brien of Parksville said the city’s touriusm sector is heavily dependent on short term rentals,“These are people’s jobs we are talking about here.”

Mayor Lilia Hansen of Fort St John told Energetic City that short term rentals are important drivers in her city: “These rentals do not serve the tourism industry, they provide housing for our industrial sector to be able to provide workforces in support of various projects at all scales throughout the region.”

CIties that have achieved a 3% vacancy rate for the past two years can opt out. Fort St John can do thisPrince George and Parksville are among the cities that cannot.

When Director Vonesch moved that Cortes Island ‘opt in’ to the Short Term Rental regulations, at last week’s SRD Board meeting, Director Ben Lanyon of Campbell River asked,  “I’m just curious if area directors have had any discussion with tourism operators in your area about the impacts of this?”

Regional Director John RIce of Area D asked,  “When you reached out and had the engagement, did you include the people that have short term rentals? –  because a lot of them probably don’t live on Cortes.”

Director Vonesch: “It was an extensive survey. As far as I know, it’s the most comprehensive survey that’s been done on Cortes around housing. We had almost 25 percent of the population respond to the survey, which I think is pretty unusual in most populations. I think  there is a margin and error of any survey, but  I haven’t heard of a survey on Cortes have more than 265 people. The response was great and it was also 66 percent landowners,  33 percent renters. It was a mix of ages, mix of people that have been here for a long time and short time.” 

“I feel pretty confident that Cortes wants to move forward with this. Basically what it’s doing is protecting Cortes Island from outside investors coming in, buying property and turning it into an Airbnb business.”  

By 2021, there were approximately 82 short term rentals on Cortes and 177 on Quadra Island.

Mark Vonesch: “I’ve had a number of people contact me since I came into office saying, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about buying land on Cortes and turning into an Airbnb, but I’m concerned about this potential legislation.” 

“That’s happening across the province right now. As of May 1, you can’t run an Airbnb in Campbell River unless that’s your primary residence. So what does that do to capital in that community? What about someone in Victoria who bought two properties in Campbell River and is using it for Airbnbs? What’s going to happen when that legislation comes in? They’re going to sell it and they’re going to say, ‘Oh, where else can I invest?’ What is happening on Quadra? What’s happening in Cortes? There’s a huge number of communities where people are divesting their home because this legislation is coming in, and they’re gonna be looking to other tourist type communities to invest in.”

“People are concerned about this and  I think there is strong support  for us to opt in. We want to protect our community. We need housing and land  for people living on Cortes to live in.”  

“I just want to really make it clear that I support Airbnb. It brings in  between $1.25 million and 1.5 million dollars a year for Cortes Islanders and supports an important part of our economy.  It’s a way that a lot of people survive on the island.  I don’t want to kill that, but I do think we need  to stand up for ourselves and protect ourselves, for the long term, from outside investors buying property and turning into a business.”

“It’s going to take a few Airbnbs off the market. I don’t think it’s going to have a huge effect. I think most Airbnbs are run by local folks on their one property, but it’s going to  create some more rentals, and it’s going to create a little bit more demand  for the folks that are running Airbnbs through their primary property.”

Cortes Currents: This most likely will have an impact on the real estate market. 

Mark Vonesch: “I don’t know how much, but yes, potentially. A couple of housing surveys ago, it showed that the average person in Cortes can afford a $209,000 mortgage. The average price at that time was $794,000. I don’t think it’s going to close the gap but by closing the door  to people buying property just for investing, it will adjust things slightly.”

“I’m not going to claim that we’re going to solve everybody’s housing problems in Cortes, but I am passionate about moving forward and taking action on things that are going to make a difference. I’m grateful that the  community stands behind this.” 

“Not everybody does. I’ve had a few emails that are upset about it. It is unfortunate if a family owns a house here and they’ve been using Airbnb as a way to  keep the maintenance up on it. I hope that those folks  are willing to move their places into at least a winter rental, to be able to maintain the cost  of their property.” 

“We need to protect ourselves because we are a tourist community and people do want to come here for a month in the summer. They do want to make it their cottage place and they do. It’s such an incredible place, which is great. We rely on tourism, but how can we find that balance and make sure that we also create housing for local folks?” 

“We have to take action on housing. The longer we wait, the worse that I’ll get.  The housing report that came out and the housing forum really has given me renewed strength for taking action. We’ve got a strong mandate from the community to make decisions that are smart for a community. That recognize we need to create housing,  rental and affordable land ownership opportunities on Cortes.” 

“I want to make it clear that not one of  these things like opting into this legislation, or the 3% short term rental tax that we got implemented, is  going to really solve housing challenges on Cortes. It’s taking a multifaceted approach and each one of them making a small difference.” 

At the February 28 SRD meeting, Regional Director Robyn Mawhinney, of Area C, seconded Vonesch’s motion that Cortes Island ‘opt in’ to the Short Term Rental legislation. There were no opposing votes. 

Then Mawhinney made a motion of her own, “I would like to move that the short term rental accommodations report be referred to the March 13th Electoral Area Services Committee (EASC) meeting and that staff arrange for a representative from the Ministry of Housing, who is familiar with the Short Term Rental Accommodations Act, attend at the meeting for an opportunity to seek clarity on some of the details.”

That motion also passed with no opposition. 

Documents used for Charts

*CORRECTION: The initial version of this article had the wrong number for short term rentals.

Top image credit: A room inside the cabinPhoto by daveynin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

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