By Rachel Fraser

The Valley will feel the effects of new provincial measures designed to rein in Short-Term Vacation Rentals (STVRs) in BC as they roll out over the coming months, even though Valemount, McBride and the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George are all officially exempt.  For instance, the Province will soon be requiring STVR platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO to display business license numbers on listings in jurisdictions that require them.

As part of its Homes for People action plan, announced in April 2023, the government introduced the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act. The Act increases allowable fines that municipalities can levy for bylaw infractions and gives Regional Districts the authority to issue business licenses. It also limits allowable STVRs to the host’s primary residence, plus one secondary suite or accessory dwelling unit. 

The province has exempted regional districts from the new rules, along with designated resort communities such as Valemount, and municipalities with populations under 10,000, which covers McBride and Valemount as well, though they all have the option to opt in.  

Neither municipality, nor the Regional District, has plans to opt in, but each said they are continuing to review the feasibility and potential benefits of the legislation for their respective jurisdictions. 

McBride does not currently have regulations governing STVRs in their zoning bylaw, which was adopted in 2010, well before the popularity of sites like Airbnb.  Karen Dube, McBride’s Economic Development Officer, said the Village intends to take advantage of funding announced by the Province in December, for municipalities to update their bylaws and Official Community Plans (OCPs).  

Valemount adopted a new OCP and zoning bylaw in 2021, which introduced new rules for STVRs. Under Valemount’s zoning bylaw, STVRs are divided into two categories. The Major category, which allows for an entire home to be rented out, is limited to R1 and R2 lots of 1500m2 or greater. A secondary suite or room is regulated under the Minor category and is permitted on properties where the remainder of the dwelling is a principal residence. Valemount issued 23 business licenses for STVRs in 2023, but Village CAO Anne Yanciw said that enforcement of unlicensed or non-compliant STVRs is difficult since the hosting sites don’t include addresses or license numbers. She anticipates that the new regulations will tighten up this gap, and that unlicensed STVRs may have an issue getting licensed if they don’t or can’t meet building code requirements for a legal suite.

“Unlicensed STRs can have concerns over meeting building code requirements,” Yanciw said. “This is important as was tragically illustrated when I was working for the City of Calgary. An unlicensed basement suite caught fire and the owner had barred the windows. Four university students died trying to get out.”

Yanciw pointed to provincial funding incentives to help create legal accessory units that could be used for long term rentals. 

“The funding incentives are attractive – matching funding up to $40,000. For homeowners currently operating an unlicensed STR through AirBnB, this is an opportunity to convert that to a long-term legal rental rather than remain illegal as the regulations around those tighten.”

Local hosts who aren’t currently compliant, or who haven’t sought licensing thus far, were understandably reluctant to share their experiences. One Valemount host, who preferred not to be named, said they have been offering their listing for a minimum one-month stay only, since the bylaw changes made their STVR non-compliant, but said they have had a lot of requests for short-term stays. They feel that the changeable nature of Valemount’s housing market isn’t reflected in the Village’s restrictions.

“It made sense when there was a temporary housing crisis caused by the pipeline to limit short-term (rentals) and allow for more long-term housing but now that the pipeline is gone the supply/demand fundamentals have changed.”

They said during the construction of TMX many homes and landowners added suites, RVs, and other units to house workers, and they didn’t dissemble them once pipeliners left. 

“Now with that demand gone there is a lot of housing on the market and vacant suits and homes.”

They went on to say that several factors have increased the financial load on landlords, leading to higher rents, which government housing incentives like homeowner grants, do little to address. 

“Utilities, insurance, and taxes have outpaced most inflation metrics used by the government like CPI. Inflation and changes in the building code have increased the costs to maintain and build a rental property.”

The Regional District currently zones STVRs identically to motels, in Commercial zones only. Renee McCloskey, Manager of External Relations, said the District is still reviewing how the new tools will affect hosts in their jurisdiction going forward. 

Municipalities across the country have looked for ways to restrict this ballooning industry and its impact on a national housing crisis. The BC government’s website states that the short-term rental market has increased 20 per cent since just last year, with an estimated 28,000 short-term rentals currently operating in the province.