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Richmond city council looks to ban house-hotels

Council does about-face, asks staff to draft prohibition bylaw
hotel house
Richmond is creating more options for going after illegal short-term rentals.

The brakes have been applied to a City of Richmond report that recommends legalizing and regulating short-term rentals in condos, townhouses and detached homes.

After six of seven city council members endorsed the recommendations at committee last week, Coun. Bill McNulty joined the one dissenting voice, Coun. Harold Steves, in calling for a ban of the practice.

“We know people don’t want it. I think we have to ban them,” said McNulty, who tabled a motion, at a council meeting Monday, to send the initial report back to staff, which is to then draft a recommendation for a new bylaw that explicitly bans most short-term rentals. The choice to prohibit is expected to go to public consultation in an expedited manner.

Eight council members voted unanimously in favour of the motion, with Coun. Carol Day, one of 17 licensed bed and breakfast operators, recused from the debate.

Staff announced Monday that three new inspectors would be hired to crack down on the existing illegal house-hotels. Furthermore, the city will begin contacting house-hotels listed online, to ensure compliance.

Staff initially recommended new bylaws that would not prohibit but regulate and place limitations on short-term rentals.

At Monday’s meeting, the city’s chief licence inspector, Carli Edwards, explained that, “Right now a lot of the regulations are not clear.”

Coun. Harold Steves said he disagreed and argued that just because there is no mention of short-term rentals in the existing bylaw doesn’t mean it is allowed.

Currently, the city has a bed and breakfast bylaw, which calls for licensing of permanent residents who rent out three or fewer rooms, to six or less people.

Also, housing bylaws allow a homeowner or occupant to have up to two boarders. No mention is made of length of stay.

Steves asked staff to determine how many more bed and breakfast licences should or could be issued. Costs have yet to be determined, but all proposals point to stiffer violation fines ($1,000 per day).

“I don’t think we need 1,500 bed and breakfasts,” said Steves, alluding to the initial report that states there are 1,586 short-term rentals listed with online booking sites and even more operating outside of such agencies.

Data suggests that of the city’s 27,200 single-family homes, as many as 555 entire homes could be listed online for short-term rentals, noted Steves.

“Close the loopholes, enforce the bylaw,” said McNulty.

A number of residents addressed council, stating they were frustrated with ongoing rentals in their neighbourhood and the city’s alleged lack of response.

Keith McDonald said he’s living beside a house billed as a “Brilliant Party House.”

He and others noted it has been difficult to find the owners of the house to address the problems.

“The bylaw officer comes by but can’t seem to find any owners,” said McDonald.

Community activist Henry Yao noted, via Twitter, “One of the most common complaints is that some of the owners do not [live] in Canada.”

Empty homes is a frequent complaint among many people in single-family home neighbourhoods. A seven-week window of data last summer by the Ministry of Finance on foreign purchases revealed one in four Richmond properties was being bought by foreigners. UBC economist Tom Davidoff has stated there are likely more of such purchases, as foreign money is sometimes channeled through permanent residents and citizens. The data is also self-reported.

At one point in the council meeting, Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he thought people had misunderstood council’s intentions that a decision was to be made Monday. Brodie said what was recommended by staff was public consultation.

Coun. Derek Dang blamed “the newspaper” for leading people to believe council had done nothing in the past to address the growing problems related to short-term rentals.

“To hear people coming out one after the other saying this council, this council, this council; you guys aren’t doing your job...I feel badly...but we have processes. We have to follow a sense of order,” said Dang.

Regarding enforcement of bylaws with respect to house-hotels, Brodie conceded, “Whatever we do, we have got to have a program for better enforcement. That’s the first place we’ve come up short.”

No decisions or changes to bylaws have been made following last night. A staff report on prohibiting short-term rentals in residential zones, save for licensed bed and breakfasts, is forthcoming.