Bowen to make short-term rental decision by March – Bowen Island Undercurrent

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Bowen’s decision on whether to opt-in to a new provincial law regarding short-term rentals will come in the next few months.

Last fall the provincial government passed Bill 35, known as the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act, which created rules meant to transition more properties from short to long-term rental options. This included a section which would ban the use of homes as short-term rentals if the house isn’t the primary residence of the owner.

The bill applies automatically to towns with 10,000 people and up, but smaller communities can decide to opt-in to following it before March 31 this year. That’s the question Bowen Island Municipality will be discussing over the next few months, with potential restriction of short-term rentals (STR) beginning this November.

The municipality currently permits two types of STR use, bed and breakfasts (B&B) which can operate year-round, and residential guest accommodations (RGA) which allows rentals for less than 30 days up to a maximum of 120 days per year. These STR rules were adopted in 2020 in an attempt to regulate an increasing number of short-term rentals on the island.

In 2023 Bowen issued 58 licences for B&B and 78 for RGA for a total of 136 STR. This is up from a total of 40 in 2021, with a jump of 57 RGA’s in two years. B&B’s wouldn’t be affected by Bill 35 since someone must live there to operate the business, but RGA’s would be subject to the new rules about primary residences (defined as the owner living there more than half the year).

Of these 78 RGA’s the municipality concluded that 44 of them currently serve as the owner’s primary residence, which means they could continue to operate as normal. But 32 are owned and operated by people who primarily live somewhere else, meaning they’d have to cease operation of their RGA activities if Bowen adopted Bill 35. Two properties are in the process of being verified whether the owner lives there or not.

During their meeting on Monday council decided to seek recommendations from the Housing Advisory Committee and Community Economic Development Committee, and hold an open house and conduct a public survey before making a decision prior to the end-of-March deadline. Based on letters to council received by Jan. 8, initial response to opting-in to the provincial plan was unfavourable with 13 of 15 letters expressing opposition to the idea, with two in support.

“Just to dispel any consternation in the community, our council doesn’t have any decision on the matter. That’s why we’re looking to go to public engagement and seek public comment on this,” said Mayor Andrew Leonard during Monday’s meeting. “We’re at a place where the STR policy (Bowen’s) as it stands now is up for review.”

“My understanding as a community member at a time when that policy first came in is that it was never intended to be the be-all, end-all… policy that would exist for STR. I think we have the benefit now of a couple years of operation, we have the benefit of getting some data, and part of the policy framework as it was established was that there would be a review period, which is what we’re in,” said the mayor.

“That review period coincides with what we see from the province, which is taking strong action and has made some strong decisions on housing in the province. It’s consistent with what we’re seeing from the federal government and their language on housing. What this leads to I think is a very good and robust time to have a conversation about what short-term vacation rentals look like on the island, what is it that the community wants to see, what is it that our residents want to see, what is it that our businesses want to see, and what is it that our operators want to see,” continued the mayor.

Leonard also clarified the impact opting into Bill 35 would have, after some letters expressed their opposition to a blanket ban on short-term rentals, which isn’t being proposed. “The province is not looking to ban short-term rentals across the board. The major change that would impact Bowen Island with the provincial legislation is the ability to opt-in to some enforcement and data tools, but also it would impose a principal residence requirement for any RGA on Bowen Island,” he said.

“Maybe that doesn’t work for Bowen, maybe it’s a tweak of our existing policy, or maybe our existing policy is fine. But that’s the conversation we’d like to have with the community. We know for a fact that short-term vacation rentals impact housing. To what degree and what direction the community wants to go in, that’s what’s up for debate,” says Leonard.

Coun. Tim Wake also commented on some of the early feedback from the community. “One of the things that I’m picking up on in the letters we’re getting is a sense that none of these residential guest accommodations could possibly work as long-term rentals. I hope that the discussion in the survey and in the open house is robust enough to look at some of the options. Because for decades a lot of these places have worked as long-term rentals,” he said.

“A lot of letters are suggesting business is going to hurt on Bowen if we don’t have these (RGA). Well business is also going to hurt if we don’t have housing for the employees for those businesses. Many of those businesses would be interested in renting… for their staff,” said Wake.

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