Vacation rentals, more commonly referred to as STRs, have been a hot topic in Ontario over the past few years, and Muskoka is no exception.
The Town of Bracebridge recently debated a freeze on such accommodations. They ultimately decided in a narrow vote to allow the STRs, but they plan to increase bylaw enforcement to help tackle any complaints.
To the south in Oro-Medonte Township, an STR Rental Ban was previously in place but was reversed last month following a hearing at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. After six days of hearings, the Tribunal decided the bylaw was not an example of good planning and must be repealed.
Jayne McCaw, the owner of Jayne’s Luxury Rentals, spoke as an expert witness during the hearings.
McCaw said she anticipates the Oro-Medonte decision to have a trickle-down effect on other areas where similar bans are in place, such as areas around Collingwood, Seguin and Carling Township.
“Banning vacation rental accommodations are a relatively new practice but people have been renting out their cottages when they’re not using them for decades,” says McCaw.
An area that has a rental ban means that rentals less than 30 days are not allowed. This means that for a family to vacation there for a week, they must stay at a resort, hotel or Bed and Breakfast.
“While everyone knows the appeal of lakefront cottages for family vacations, this type of rental for a week or two is not possible in large areas around Muskoka and Parry Sound, nor in Collingwood and some townships there,” says McCaw. ‘Especially after the pandemic, a vacation rental is the preferred accommodation choice for summer family vacations but not allowed in popular areas where families like to vacation in Ontario.”
A founding member of the Ontario Cottage Rental Managers Association (OCRMA), McCaw says putting moratoriums on weekly vacation rentals can have a damaging ripple effect on the local economy.
“It isn’t just the owners, it’s all of the secondary and tertiary businesses that are tied to an increase in tourism,” says McCaw.
Restaurants, marinas, cleaning services, grocery stores and myriad other businesses are all impacted by the loss of being able to stay in vacation rental properties for less than 30 days, she says.
“The OCRMA alone represents over 1,200 rental operators with a total revenue in the neighbourhood of $35 million in 2021,” says McCaw. “If we use the standard vacation rental model, the collective agencies generated a conservative estimate of $120 million in economic activities in Ontario in 2021.”
In addition, McCaw said that roughly 20% of the people who use her service eventually end up buying a cottage in areas they’ve rented in. Not only does a ban on vacation rentals block family summer holidays, but it also eliminates families from vacationing in areas less than a few hours from their homes where they are interested in buying a lakefront property, says McCaw. By banning rentals, they are also impacting new buyers who would otherwise consider buying in that area.
McCaw said that while she understands there is a housing crunch in Muskoka, banning these types of rentals will do nothing to help address that issue.
“We know that there’s a shortfall in the housing supply in Bracebridge, and in particular for workers,” she says. “That being said, it isn’t realistic to think those workers are going to purchase the cottages we’re renting to live in permanently.”
As for concerns over unruly guests, McCaw says they have stringent protocols in place to deal with any issues. Problems with guests are detrimental to both the cottage owners and to the rental business. McCaw knows who her most important client is – and those are her owners. As owners don’t want to upset their neighbours and the community, it is imperative that all guests are fully screened and educated upon arrival as to proper codes of conduct for responsible renting.
“Anyone who goes through us needs to sign a very onerous Guest Contract and we have no problem with turning down a potential renter if we have any concerns,” she says. “We personally visit every cottage that we rent, we try to let all the neighbours know what’s going on and we’re available 24/7 during rentals to deal with any problems that come up.”
McCaw says they strive to spread the word that cottage owners have to be responsible owners, or there will continue to be residents in communities pushing for outright rental bans. All owners need to be providing quality, rental-ready properties, fully inspected, with occupancy dependent on the number of actual bedrooms, following local bylaws for noise, parking and garbage, etc.
“What we need are good owners, not total bans,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense to shut down an entire industry just because of a few bad apples.”
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