Facebook group advocates for short term rental owners in Greater Victoria

Local property owners and vacation rental operators mount defence against new STR regulations

A group of property owners are hoping to change the City of Victoria’s mind about short-term rentals.

Blake MacKenzie, who has been working in the short-term rental (STR) industry since 2004 and co-owns EMR Vacation Rentals, created the Facebook group Greater Victoria Short Term Rental Alliance over the summer, in hopes of advocating for property owners and vacation rental providers. The group has over 80 members, 50 of whom met at the Oaklands Community Association last week and formed an ad hoc committee to create a legal defence for the local industry, and to talk about fundraising for their advocacy efforts.

The owners of properties managed by MacKenzie, and members of the group feel they got shut out by the City, he said, and that only large companies like Airbnb were consulted before Victoria created a new policy. Last month the City removed transient accommodation as an appropriate land use for downtown properties, the first step in creating comprehensive short-term rental regulations that come into effect in early 2018.

“We felt the city of Victoria was not listening,” MacKenzie said. “Not one of us were called to the table; none of us had a consultation process with anyone at council.”

MacKenzie and three other members of the group did address council in June, but he said group members would have liked a “round table” discussion.

During last month’s public hearing, councillors said they hoped regulations would bring properties back into the long-term rental market.

MacKenzie said regulating STR in Victoria won’t address the housing crisis, but will hurt property owners who often own a single property used for vacation rentals, who may have purchased it as a retirement investment or to supplement mortgage payments. Many were never meant to be available as long-term rentals, he said.

“We’re not talking about helping homelessness here. We’re not talking helping people find affordable housing, because landlords should not be the ones subsidizing peoples’ lives by giving them deals on low-income rent,” he said. “Most of these owners are not rich people; most of these owners, this is the biggest investment they have in their lives. They’re middle-class people that earned and built these properties over time.”

The City’s short-term rental framework is still being created, and while the licensing fees are not set, they’ve been proposed at $200 to $2,500 per licence, a price tag MacKenzie said is too high.

“If you’re trying to say a small studio suite in the Janion, it’s gotta cost $2,500 a year to be licensed, it’s completely unfair. That’s a punitive tax. That’s not a licensing fee.”

Coun. Ben Isitt stands by council’s decision to regulate STR and noted that licensing fees have yet to be determined.

But the rezoning law and regulating the industry are fair and will help address the housing crisis because the condominium units are needed for rental housing, he said.

“There could be losses for some of these owners, but I think that’s unfortunately part of the ordinary course of business,” he said, speaking of the risks involved in investing in the largely unregulated STR industry. “The people who are really losing right now are renters who can’t even find shelter.

“If you look at the financial power of the parties, comparing the owner of a short-term rental unit, to an individual who is trying to find an affordable, safe place to live, the real insecurity is with renters in a community.”

The City is hosting an open house about short term rentals Monday (Oct. 30) from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

lauren.boothby@vicnews.com

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