Illegal tourist home rules need changes

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Well, it didn’t take too long to hit the first bumps in the Canmore tourist home enforcement road.

After hiring a new staffer to track down and deal with homeowners renting out their homes via Airbnb, VRBO and other websites, some amount of craziness has now arisen.

While it’s all well and good to try and crack down on homeowners taking advantage of the popularity and ease of internet accommodation bookings, despite Town bylaws, and against their neighbours’ wishes, a common sense approach must be taken.

For a homeowner to be taken to task, tourist home-wise, because a listing they used in the 1990s has reappeared on a website without their knowledge, doesn’t make sense. Signed statements from neighbours swearing that the owner has not been renting out the property in question should hold sway.

In particular, to be forced to pay a $2,500 fine on the basis of a decades-old online ad just doesn’t make sense. In the internet world, after all, nothing ever really disappears, as many have found to their regret.

Because an old online ad has changed hands to a company looking to offer plenty of listings locally, shouldn’t mean a homeowner guilty of nothing should pay a fine.

It is great that enforcement is occurring, as it was woefully lacking in the past, but there is still a lot of confusion around how the Land Use Bylaw addresses this issue, given that it was written in 1998. The regulations are part of the upcoming rewrite of the bylaw and there needs to be community-wide conversations around what type of uses are appropriate and where, when it comes to homesharing and short-term rentals in residential neighbourhoods.

Without those conversations occurring, it seems in terms of timing that the hard line approach is going to catch more unintended consequences than move this issue toward any type of understanding in the community.

The other problem with a seemingly hard line approach to tourist home enforcement is that it just doesn’t mesh with the general air of bylaw enforcement activity in Canmore, which often seems to feature less enforcement and more goodwill.

On the one hand, you have the bylaw department, complaint-driven, which tends to be reactive, rather than proactive. On the other hand, you now have tourist home enforcement, which has become very proactive.

We’re not saying there should be an easing up of tourist home rental investigations, it is an ongoing issue that won’t go away, but until there are proper definitions, policies and penalties within the Town’s Land Use Bylaw, it’s unlikely to be effective.

Without some level of proactive enforcement, you have the Canmore situation where few off-leash dog walkers worry about being fined. You also have sidewalks that nobody bothers to clear – because their neighbour or neighbouring business hasn’t officially filed a complaint.

You also have situations like that on Glacier Drive or a spot on Seventh Avenue that come to mind where long-term storage of vehicles is taking place. In summer, the situation may not be obvious, but in winter, when plow trucks have built up a nice bank of snow, unbroken by vehicles being driven through it, it’s pretty obvious they never move. Yet there the vehicles, from cars to commercial cube vans, remain – until someone finally complains.

Nobody wants to see a free-for-all situation with Airbnb-type bookings everywhere, through all zonings in town, but we don’t think anybody wants anyone to be overly burdened by enforcement where none is necessary.

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Rocky Mountain Outlook