City Council discusses short-term rentals in Fernie

Fernie City Council received a presentation from Fernie Chamber of Commerce Director regarding short-term rental units in Fernie.

At the July 11 Committee of the Whole meeting, Fernie City Council received a presentation from Fernie Chamber of Commerce Director, Patty Vadnais regarding short-term rental units within the city of Fernie. The popularity of short-term rental units has increased with the expanding online market of vendors such as Airbnb, VRBO, Owner Direct and Fernie Central Reservations.

According to Vadnais’ presentation, there are currently 59 units with the total guest capacity of 385 people, which are operating outside of the City’s zoning bylaws. These units are renting entire homes in residential zones.

Vadnais also noted there are 24 short-term rentals that are operating legally, according to the zoning bylaws. These 24 units are located in Fernie 901 and Silver Rock condominiums and have the capacity to host 103 people. Both Fernie 901 and Silver Rock fall into a commercial zone under the City’s zoning bylaw.

Short-term rentals can operate in a residential zone if they operate as a Bed and Breakfast. Vadnais outlined the stipulations for operating a Bed and Breakfast as, “a) shall be owner occupied; b) shall not provide more than three rooms for the purpose of paying guests within the home; c) one parking space must be provided on site for each room to be rented; d) employment of one additional staff allowed to assist in operations.”

These rules apply exclusively to residential zones R1 and R1B.

“Short-term rentals in multi-family complexes or high density zones such as Cokato Apartments, Ridgemont Apartments or Veneto Apartments are a violation of the zoning bylaw. As well, renting an entire house outside of commercial areas is a zoning violation,” said Vadnais.

In her presentation to Council, Vadnais referenced communities similar to Fernie, and what they are doing to try and curb the issue of illegal short-term rentals.

“We have seen the Revelstoke City Council, after investigating the extent of illegal vacation rentals, put forward a recommendation to set a cap on the number of vacation rentals, and is proposing active bylaw enforcement,” she said. “Their rationale stems from the fact that illegal short-term rentals are avoiding commercial tax, are benefitting without contributing to the paid tourism marketing that advertises their community and creating noise and parking disturbances.”

Vadnais also referenced Tofino and Nelson as similar communities who are facing the same problem as Fernie in regards to short-term rentals. Nelson commissioned a researcher to look into the issue and to construct a regulation model for the city.

According to Vadnais, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce is lobbying the provincial government to enforce a provincial sales tax, along with a municipal and regional district tax by the service provider.

“For example, what this would mean is if you book on Airbnb, the provincial and hotel taxes would be collected by Airbnb and remitted to the province that way,” she said, adding the Fernie Chamber of Commerce supports this effort.

“Someone should be able to purchase a home in the Airport or Annex and not expect a hotel next door,” said Vadnais. “In looking at these numbers, there are many opportunities to offer short-term rentals legally under the current zoning.”

Vadnais’ main request was that the City look at the current 59 rental units that are operating outside of the current zoning bylaws, and Vadnais said the Chamber would support the City to create education literature to inform the public on the current zoning bylaws. Council agreed that some action needed to be taken in regards to non-compliant short-term rental units. Councillor Dan McSkimming said he hoped Council could come up with a reasonable action plan by the beginning of the winter tourism season.