Deanna and Scott Ambeault were facing foreclosure.
They had two houses, a burgeoning small business, and an insurmountable debt load.
Before marrying her husband, Deanna had bought a condominium at the Rivers on the West side of Fernie, but in 2008, when the recession hit the value of her condo plummeted.
She and her husband live in Hosmer and were renting out the condo on Riverside way, but the market never recovered to the extent where she could completely pay the mortgage costs with a long term rental.
Then they had particularly bad tenant, who wracked up nearly $9,000 in damages.
“We were fighting insurance for months,” said Scott, remembering how he and Deanna would worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills. “We were in the process of foreclosure.”
It was through the use of AirBnB for short term rentals, that the couple was able to dig their way out of debt with the mortgage and condo fees.
“If we sold it now, we’d still owe $40,000,” said Scott. “Renting out was the best bet.”
However, according to the City of Fernie, what the Ambeaults and many others are doing is technically illegal.
In a move to regulate the short term rental market, the City of Fernie is looking to legalize short term rentals and apply enforceable rules.
The city would require the owners to apply for a short term rental license—which would be issued to those who are looking to rent in their own domicile, which is up to code and zoned for short term rentals.
The proposed legislation would restrict people from renting out secondary homes like cottages and investment properties.
In a city that’s facing numerous short and longterm housing pressures, manager of planning Patrick Sorfleet says the move will help protect the long term housing market in Fernie.
“If you have an investment property, you can’t turn it into a short term rental,” said Sorfleet.
Currently, there are 71 active listings on Air DNA, the data collection site for Air BnB listings in a city.
“Of those 71, I couldn’t say how many are owned by who lives there,” he said.
While the intention of the legislation is to protect the longterm rental market in the town, Sorfleet says it will not help protect affordable housing.
In May, the city conducted a community survey on the matter, which elicited nearly 300 responses. Sorfleet says that while the comments were varied, there was an overwhelming and resounding push for some sort of regulation.
“Our intent is to have meaningful regulation in place before the next ski season,” said Sorfleet.
He says he has taken pages out of short term rental bylaws for cities like Vancouver, Nelson, Kelowna, Canmore and even Blue Mountain, in Ontario.
He says the Fernie solution will not exactly mirror any of these municipalities, because this city has its own distinct and unique set of challenges.
The proposed regulations would charge a fee for the license and also lay fines for operating and advertising illegal rentals.
The rentals would also be subject to snow and ice removal bylaws, which would be subject to additional fines if breached.
Ryland Nelson, the owner of Fernie BnB, a host-assist company for people who rent out their units short term says that the proposed legislation is a positive step.
“The city is legalizing a lot of short term rentals that aren’t currently legal,” he said, noting that right now, the only short term rentals not registered as bed and breakfasts in Fernie that are legal are 901 Fernie and Silver Rock.
“It’s not going to create any new long term rental stock,” he said however, noting that the regulations will put a number of his own clients out of business.
The families who live in Calgary, who own a second house in Fernie will not be legally able to rent out short term, and he argues because they come on the weekends, they will never rent out the facilities long term.
“They are all shocked to hear that they can’t do what they’ve been doing for the last 20 years,” said Nelson.
He says that the main concerns are to restrict companies that are buying up properties in Fernie to rent out solely as short term rentals.
“I understand the situation that the town is in,” said Deanna, explaining that the proposed regulations would keep them from renting out their condo. “There’s got to be something else you can do….for us it’s feeding the kids. It’s our livelihood really.”
In between guests, Scott cleans the Riverside Way unit meticulously.
With the scent of cleaner fresh in the air, he scrubs the bathroom top to bottom. After he and his wife fixed the condo up following their last long term tenant, they decorated the unit with a set of beige couches and rustic furnishings.
Scott joked that they put their nice stuff in the rental unit.
“We live in fear of a four star,” said Deanna, jokingly. The pair pride themselves on being able to host visitors in a clean, cozy apartment.
At the next council meeting on September 11, the bylaw will be presented to council for debate.