What is the vacation rental situation like in Squamish?
About a year after the regulations were put in place, Airbnb-style rentals plummeted.
About a year since the District of Squamish implemented its short-term rental regulations, there has been a 36% drop in Airbnb-style rentals.
On January 11, city staff provided an update to council on the program and noted that the number of vacation rentals in the city had fallen to 140 as of December 2021.
In the first quarter of 2021, this number was 220.
A staff report says the number of vacation rental search results for suites halved to 50 results at the end of 2021, from 100 in the first quarter of this year.
Secondary suites were prohibited from rental unless the host obtained a special waiver through a Temporary Use Permit (TUP). The district has authorized up to 30 such permits to be active at any one time, but not all 30 applications have been granted.
Staff say it’s unclear how many of these suites have actually returned to the long-term rental market.
Decreases in the number of short-term rental units correspond to an increase in occupancy rates, as there were fewer vacation units available.
On this point, Squamish Tourism and the Squamish Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to council that he was uncertain whether the reduction in vacation rentals had contributed to the housing crisis, although it was likely to hurt the local economy.
“While it is unclear whether the District’s regulations have been successful in increasing long-term rental supply, it is clear that the regulations have had a significant negative impact on the tourism industry and on supply. accommodations for visitors to Squamish,” they said in the letter, dated Jan. 5.
“Occupancy rates and prices for STRs and hotels have increased. Once these high occupancy levels are reached, there are fewer options available for a visitor’s preferred unit types, rates, and dates. With reduced stocks, there is a risk of movement to other destinations.
Both organizations have also expressed opposition to current short-term rental regulations, particularly stipulations that prohibit the rental of secondary suites and carriage houses.
Currently, with a few exceptions, hosts are only allowed to rent their primary residence – the places where they live most of the time.
Both organizations said the current rules favor the wealthy and can disadvantage women and marginalized people.
“We are also concerned that current district regulations discriminate against low-income hosts and female hosts by creating structures that undermine their inclusion in the market. In particular, the current policy of helping hosts rent out their primary residence means that affluent hosts who have a secondary residence can continue to operate with few limitations,” the letter read.
“More flexible guests can live in their secondary suites or carriage houses while renting out their primary residence. This is less feasible for others, such as those with larger families. Additionally, the removal of the right to rent accessory suites means that hosts could choose to remove the partitions between themselves and strangers who rent their rooms. This brings the property into compliance with STR regulations, but can also put women, the elderly and other marginalized people at risk.
Back at the district meeting, planners also talked about compliance issues.
District planner Aja Philp said only 64 of 140 active vacation rental units have a business license, which equates to a compliance rate of just 45%.
“This rate is lower than other municipalities in British Columbia that staff have researched,” Philp said.
“But we expect this rate to improve throughout 2022, as staff have yet to go through our full list of identified non-compliant operators. And if we don’t see improvements over the course of In Year 2, we will definitely be looking at potential barriers to compliance.”
However, when it comes to enforcement, 73 of the 84 properties – more than 87% – that received warning letters subsequently took action to comply with the regulations.
Philp also added that the host’s compliance monitoring service, Granicus, which is a third-party contractor hired by the municipality, appears to be doing a good job.
She also noted that vacation rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo were unwilling to work with the district to enforce local bylaws.
“This issue has been raised with many other municipalities in BC as well as UBCM and it could be raised through advocacy,” Philp said.
For next steps, she said staff should monitor accessory suites and non-main accommodations, such as investment units, to see if there is an increase in the long-term rental market.
“A key measure of the success of the [short term rental] program is impacting the long-term rental market,” Philp said. “However, it is very difficult to isolate the specific impacts of [short-term rental] because there are so many other factors that influence the long-term rental market.”
She also floated the idea of creating a list of banned buildings where strata banned Airbnb units.
Staff recommended continuing with current short-term rental regulations and oversight.
They also recommended processing 18 additional temporary use permits that would grant exemptions to people seeking to put vacation rentals in secondary suites and prohibited secondary suites.
The municipality has still not distributed the maximum of 30 TUPs for this purpose, and the 18 additional permits would reach this ceiling.
The Board voted unanimously in favor of the staff recommendations and also provided comments.
Com. Armand Hurford said he was surprised that not all 30 permits had been distributed at this stage.
“I thought there would be a bigger demand for these TUPs,” he said.
Hurford said the window for receiving applications seemed a little short and asked if it was possible to increase the deadline for applications.
The municipality had been accepting TUPs for three and a half weeks last year.
Mayor Karen Elliott said she would like to see proper oversight of program costs and expenses to ensure it breaks even.
She said she was also encouraged by the rising vacancy rate in the city.
According to a staff report, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) reported a vacancy rate of 1.4% for 2020, compared to 0.3% in 2019.
Com. Eric Andersen said it might be useful to have a general report on tourist accommodation to better inform future decisions.
“We could be well served by a broader review of tourist accommodation needs and opportunities,” Andersen said.