Central council approves hiring company to help implement short-term rental bylaw

MINDEMOYA—By a slim majority vote, Central Manitoulin municipal council has approved hiring a Canadian-based company, Harmari, to assist the municipality with implementing a short-term rental accommodation bylaw at a cost of $11,000.

“We have been getting many calls from property home owners about their neighbours who have turned their residences into short term rental accommodations (STRs), and that these renters, in many cases, are not obeying the rules, having fires on the beach, partying, dogs running loose on their property and people trespassing onto neighbouring property and other concerns,” said Richard Stephens, mayor of Central Manitoulin, after a recent council meeting.

“What is happening is that non-residents are buying up these properties with homes and turning them into rental units, while their neighbours are questioning why they are able to use these units for commercial use in residential zones,” explained Mayor Stephens. “Council has agreed that we need a bylaw to put controls on this practice, so that people won’t stop buying and renting these places out.”

Mayor Stephens pointed out that neither council members nor municipal staff have any experience dealing with this sort of thing. “So, we had directed staff to talk to people in southern Ontario who have dealt with these issues and found a solution to the issue we are dealing with. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so we talked to other people that have gone through all of this in places like Huntsville and Wasaga beach.”

In an overview of the current situation in Central Manitoulin and based on estimates at this time, Harmari  research shows that there are 89 accommodations and intermittent listings in Central Manitoulin, with 78 entire home STR listings and 11 shared-home STR listings. The estimated gross revenue per year is $2,469,827.46. The estimated lodging taxes due per year, which is lost by the municipality (based on 10 percent), is $246,982.75.

Council passed two motions, one being to accept the short-term rental report as submitted by Harmari, and a second motion to engage Harmari to assist the municipality with its short-term accommodation bylaw implementation as per quotes provided, subject to reference checks.

However, a vote had to be taken with both motions were raised by councillors.

“Does accepting the (Harmari) report mean that we will be in a contract with the company?” asked Councillor Al Tribinevicius. 

“In the next motion, we will be considering engaging them,” said Mayor Richard Stephens.

Councillor Steve Shaffer explained that the report was prepared by Harmari and is not a report the municipality paid for. “So, what they provided in terms of statistics and information is not 100 percent correct. There are a few inaccuracies in the report.”

“I want to make sure we do this right,” stated Councillor Derek Stephens. “The motion as it stands doesn’t make any sense. We don’t currently have a short-term accommodation bylaw in place for this  company to assist  with its implementation. I just wonder if we’re putting the cart before the horse. I would rather have a bylaw in place then look at engaging the company for their assistance. But we have no bylaw to help them assist us with implementation.”

While, “the wording of the motion may be ambiguous, it helps us draft the bylaw with the company providing their assistance, expertise and through webinars held with office staff,” said Councillor Shaffer. “The wording could be changed, but waiting for the bylaw to be done and then engaging the company doesn’t make any sense and  there are other things that they can be doing while we are working on a bylaw. All of this goes hand in hand. We can work with them as we develop the bylaw.”

“That is all great, but in their quote (Harmari) doesn’t talk about dealing with things like Hipcamp rentals, which we have in the municipality,” said Councillor Stephens. “And there are people that rent out bunkies. If we are drafting a bylaw, I would want it to be all inclusive.”

“I agree there is an issue with the Hipcamps,” said Councillor Shaffer. “I can see a separate bylaw for it, because it’s different than shore term accommodation.”

“If we are going to wait for a bylaw to be established on short term rental accommodation, it will be a year or a year-and-a-half or more and we will still be arguing all of this,” said Councillor Scott. “I think it will be worth it to get this company on side and have them do the research they need to. So, when get a bylaw in place they will be able to assist us. If we wait now we could be looking at a long time in the future on establishing a bylaw.”

Mayor Stephens said he felt the municipality has done its due diligence and should move things along, and if they don’t “we will lose at least one more tourist accommodation season.”

Councillor Al Tribinevicius did not agree with many of the numbers that were posted in the Harmari report and said Central Manitoulin was being compared to the Grey Highlands area, which has a much larger population, and that the municipality does not have any condominiums which were also included in the report.

The issue of short-term rental accommodation being used extensively in the municipality, “is the number one complaint I’ve received as a councillor. Yes, some of their (Harmari) dollar figures and other information is off, but they would clarify all of that with the research that they would do, focusing on the municipality. I don’t know why we wouldn’t proceed,” said Councillor Shaffer.

“I agree with both Dale and Steve,” said Councillor Rose Diebolt. “For the past 2-4 months, we have been struggling with looking at a bylaw on this issue. We definitely have to do something.”

“I’m not saying I’m not confident with the company assisting us,  but until our bylaw enforcement officer gets some background on how to write a bylaw on this issue and includes the Hipcamp bookings being written into the bylaw. I don’t see anything wrong with waiting another month to for the webinar to be held and then hiring this company to help with a bylaw we don’t have,” said Councillor Stephens.

Council approved the motions by a vote of 3-2, with Councillors Steve Shaffer, Rose Diebolt and Dale Scott in favour and Councillors Derek Stephens and Al Tribinevicius voting in opposition.

“We will try and include Hipcamps in the bylaw as well,” Mayor Stephens told The Expositor after the meeting. He added, “Manitoulin Island is being discovered, and we have people coming for a holiday on Manitoulin and renting out these homes. But we have to protect our community and the people that live here as well.”