Two Canmore homes that were fined $2,500 by the municipality for unauthorized nightly rentals to tourists have failed to sway the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board that they should not be subject to a fine.
The two homes are located on Wapiti Close and Ridge Road, and in December the Town of Canmore issued stop work orders and $2,500 fines for both residential properties after a search online showed advertisements for both as a vacation rental.
Neither, however, are zoned as a tourist home and as a result of the enforcement action, both appealed to SDAB.
The owner of 133 Wapiti Close, Hans Herchen of Edmonton, didn’t attend the appeal hearing, however several of his neighbours did.
A member of the condo board for Golden Eagle Estates, Percy Strong told the board the six-bedroom, five-bathroom gated luxury log home in Eagle Terrace has been a major problem for their neighbourhood.
Strong said the condo board is opposed to tourist home uses in residential areas, and has struggled with at least one of its owners as well to enforce the rules.
“It has been a very bad example of a neighbour in the area in the sense that it has increased traffic and there have been a number of incidents … where the RCMP have been called to that address to shut down parties that were very noisy,” he said.
“One of the problems with allowing a place like 133 to be a tourist home is that it sets a very poor precedent for our own complex in the sense that three-quarters are only weekenders and they could easily put their places up (for short term rental) and indeed one or two units have.”
Listed at $1,301 a night online with multiple reviews from those who have rented the 9,000 square foot home, Kyle Sloan, enforcement officer for the municipality, said there was sufficient evidence the property was being used as an illegal tourist home.
Sloan said even with an effort to educate the community around illegal tourist homes last year, there are 980 online listings and only 395 of those are legally operating tourist homes.
Michael Kantoch, who lives in the same block, told the board the property is not well kept and loud parties have disturbed his family.
“The parties were pretty loud and the place is not looked after, the surroundings are not looked after and the gardening not done,” Kantoch said.
In the decision, signed by Chair Ron Casey, the board found the property was advertised as a tourist home and is in a district that does not allow that as a permitted or discretionary use.
“The board accepts the evidence provided by adjacent property owners that the tourist home is having an adverse effect on neighbourhood amenities,” stated the order.
Ridge Road owners Kari Woo and Corey Stevens appealed their enforcement order, hoping to be able to overturn the $2,500 fine.
However, after several recent appeals to the SDAB made it clear the board does not have the jurisdiction to overturn the fine, instead, Woo and Stevens addressed the board to express their concerns around the entire process.
Stevens said they were not contesting the stop order, but felt that receiving a fine at the same time was unnecessary and they felt bullied by the process.
“This whole process could have been handled a lot more effectively,” he said.
Woo pointed out there are many homes in her neighbourhood and throughout the community that have suites, however, are not zoned for them either.
“There is no shutting down of those spaces even though they are not adhering to the Land Use Bylaw,” she pointed out. “On our street everyone has a basement suite and it is not zoned. It seems hypocritical and heavy handed on this particular use.”
Woo and Stevens said they don’t feel they are operating commercially, but instead using the fees they collect to rent out their suite to pay for the high cost of living in Canmore.
“It is not a business, we are not running a hotel,” she said. “I know that is the case for a lot of people in a similar position.”
Sloan told the board that by providing only warnings to illegal tourist homes, there is little deterrence in the community for homeowners to follow the rules.
“Issuing the fine at the beginning of the process serves not only as a penalty for the illegal act taking place, but also as a deterrent in the community,” Sloan said. “We don’t want people waiting for a warning, knowing they are contravening the bylaw.”
He said last year, 99 warning letters were issued during the beginning of the enforcement process. There was an initial period where public education was the focus and stop orders with fines were withdrawn after homeowners agreed to stop the illegal use and sign a statutory declaration.
“The process began to evolve from August to December,” Sloan said. “The process grew more stringent and as it did so, we achieved greater level of compliance.”
Tourist homes in Canmore require zoning under the Land Use Bylaw, they need a business licence to operate and owners pay higher taxes than standard residential properties.
Casey said the fact that homeowners receive the stop order and fine at the same time is part of the reason why they are confused around the process.
General manager of municipal infrastructure Michael Fark said administration will change that process moving forward to make it abundantly clear the two things are separate, and only the stop order can be appealed to the SDAB. The fine, on the other hand, can be appealed through the court.
“It is administration’s intent to continue moving forward by issuing the stop order and ticket (fine),” he said with respect to the process. “The intent is to serve them together, but with clearer documentation.”