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Cottage Rental or Home Sweet Home?

Are you allowed to rent out your home or cottage to visitors on a short term basis in a residentially zoned area?  The answer is no.  Should you be allowed to?  That appears to be a matter of opinion.

The issue is making the news here in the Georgian Triangle over two particular cases: one in Wasaga Beach and one in the Town of Blue Mountains.

As reported in the Toronto Star and various radio newscasts such as 680 News last week, the issue has arisen because a couple of homeowners were issued notices of zoning violation from the Town. Fines for a first offence can be as high as $25,000.00. According to the report, the Town responded to complaints about short term rentals taking place in homes designated for residential use.  The Mayor of Wasaga Beach stated that the Town only acts based on complaints but when one is made, they have an obligation to enforce the existing municipal zoning laws.

It’s true that for many years, homeowners in Wasaga Beach and many other communities in our area, have made a practice of renting out their properties to tourists for a week-end, week or short period of time to help in covering the carrying costs of what is often a second home or investment property.  I myself get close to a dozen enquiries each and every month from potential buyers hoping to do just that.  The practice is so common that they are not hidden but boldly advertised on cottage rental or classified sites and on signs.

Last year, the Town of Blue Mountains decided to pass a defining by-law addressing this very issue which is covered in more detail on a previous blog post. The decision of the Town was appealed by the owner of a local rental company and while the OMB hearing is over, a decision on that case has not yet been issued.

So back to the question – SHOULD this practice be allowed?  Some people argue that it is an unreasonable crackdown that will stop families, who have rented cottages for many years, from returning to the Beach and that it is an “out-dated by-law that will put the nail in the coffin to our tourist industry.”  They argue that if the issue is one of noise, then the Town should enforce noise by-laws instead.

On the other side of the issue, there are commercially zoned cottage courts, motels and such that pay higher tax rates and generate a living by providing accommodation to visitors.  They would argue that it is not fair to allow these types of uses in residentially zoned homes.  There are also homeowners living in subdivisions who have an expectation when they buy a home that they will not be dealing with ever-changing neighbours or homes in the area that are being operated with a commercial use.

My own opinion is that the time for the public to object to policy is when it is written – not when it is enforced.  Official plans and zoning by-laws are updated and, the public always has opportunities to press for change through the democratic process.  If they didn’t do it then, don’t try to do it when the Town is put in the position of enforcing a valid by-law.  If my neighbours start running a hotel of sorts next door, I’ll quite possibly be complaining to our by-law department and demanding enforcement.  What choice would the Town have at that point?  None.  None whatsoever.

That’s what I think.  What do you think?

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