Sarah Bissonette, CottageCountryNow.ca
August 2, 2012
CARLING TWP. – Danny and Pam Strelec were surprised to learn that they aren’t allowed to rent out their Georgian Bay home this summer.
In fact, nobody in Carling Township can rent out their waterfront properties.
The enforcement of the long-standing bylaw comes on the heels of a June 2011 Ontario Municipal Board decision upholding another municipality’s ban on short-term rentals in residential areas.
It’s a ban that the president of the Parry Sound Real Estate Board said could impact future sales of waterfront properties in this area.
The Strelecs have their home listed online for rent between June 23 to September 3 with two weeks booked this summer. They aren’t the only Carling address listed, in fact, Danny Strelec learned about the online service from another nearby couple who rent their waterfront home out.
They’ve also brought guests in this year to see the cottage through an out-of-town contact in hopes of making a sale of both the home and a yacht they’d bought for an unsuccessful timeshare business venture. The two plan to relocate to southern Ontario, where Pam started a new job in July.
Danny bought the Georgian Bay home in 1996, but it wasn’t until the death of his first wife in 2004 that he opened it up for renters.
“Most of the years, after 2004, I rented the house out for three or four weeks, sometimes five weeks,” he said. “And there was a period in the fall when they were building the highway, I think that was in 2007, I rented it for three months.”
He started renting out the waterfront home while he was travelling after his partner’s death, instead of leaving it vacant.
“My wife passed away, I didn’t want to be here for one thing,” he said. “At that time I felt like selling it because I didn’t want the memory of the house.”
In the end, Strelec kept the house and both remodelled it and remarried.
But now, after a neighbour’s complaint to the bylaw department about the long-standing practice, they’ve been told renting their Georgian Bay home isn’t allowed. They’re also accused of renting their boat out, another activity the bylaw prevents. This, they said, after they lodged a complaint about the state of the neighbour’s backyard this spring that they say lowers to resale value and saleability of their home.
A meeting with township staff about the complaints against them on June 28 was one-ended, they said, with staff at one end of the table and them the other, with a pre-typed note handed to them at the end outlining why neither the rental of their home, nor the alleged renting of their boat, were allowed.
“Please be advised that continued contravention could result in fine under the Planning Act and the municipal bylaw to the maximum of $25,000,” stated the letter from the township’s bylaw enforcement officer, Tammy Purdy.
In a followup email from Purdy, she told the Strelec’s that the rental of their home wasn’t allowed for any length of time.
Renting private waterfront homes isn’t allowed in Carling for several reasons including the potential of inconsiderate behaviour of renters who don’t have a vested interest in the community, said Mayor Gord Harrison. As of last week, this is the only case where the township has enforced the ban on rentals of private waterfront homes.
“There was a complaint made and that is why this is being acted on,” said Harrison. “It’s not like there was names picked out of a hat.”
Carling residents could rezone their properties to make rentals legal, but the township’s official plan, finalized in January 2011, bans the development of new commercial properties.
Under the township’s comprehensive zoning bylaw, owners whose property is zoned waterfront residential can run a home business, but, “renting of your home, for a fee, for short term period, does not meet the requirements of a home occupation,” according to the letter from the bylaw department outlying the township’s comprehensive zoning bylaw.
While the township hasn’t enforced the bylaw in the past, it was never the intent of the township council in creating the official plan or comprehensive zoning bylaw to allow waterfront rentals.
“I think the way it works with our zoning is if it’s not listed as a permitted use, it’s a prohibited use and that’s the situation here,” said Harrison. “When you’re looking at waterfront properties we were pretty clear on what could be permitted, you’re allowed certain building sizes, it’s residential use and you can run certain types of businesses but others you can’t.”
In June 2011 an Ontario Municipal Board decision stated that short-term accommodation should only be offered in commercially-zoned property.
“Most of this (situation with waterfront rentals) is the changing legal landscape, because a few years ago it didn’t appear municipalities could regulate rentals like that,” said Harrison.
The rules about renting waterfront homes vary from township to township. In McDougall Township, a waterfront homeowner must apply to rezone their property to commercial if they want to offer it up for short-term rental.
“That way it allows for public input for the neighbours and the neighbourhood, whether or not it would survive that process I don’t know because nobody has applied to rezone for a short-term rental,” said Brian Leduc, McDougall’s fire chief, director of recreation, and bylaw supervisor.
The township has investigated nine separate complaints about rentals of private waterfront properties over the last 18 months.
“Most of the people just don’t realize it is a zoning infraction,” said Leduc. “So they admit to us they are doing it, didn’t realize it was a problem, we give them the information to the certain date they have to come into compliance with the bylaw or go through the rezoning process if they want to continue with short-term rentals.”
The ban on renting residential waterfront properties is connected to the behaviour of some tenants who don’t respect the area as a resident would and could prompt neighbours to call the bylaw enforcement department to “settle things down” said Leduc.
“On the council side and the municipality’s side, the main factor for why short-term rentals is something that is not allowed under the normal zoning is we get complaints from the neighbours in regards to noise, and just other activities that are not good behaviour that are taking place on properties from people who are renting, these are not all rentals but that is certainly one motivating factor in why it’s not allowed.”
In Seguin Township residents are allowed to rent their waterfront homes.
While the Strelec’s said they don’t rent out their home specifically for the additional $5,500 a week it brings in, the money is on the minds of some perspective homebuyers and those on the water.
A municipality enforcing a bylaw banning the practice could sway buyers from closing a deal and sellers from listing a property, according to one realtor.
“Some people buying see that as a way to create some cash flow, to able to enjoy their property but get some money back. I don’t think it is a primary motivator for somebody buying the property but it certainly, I think, entered into some of the decision-making process,” said Parry Sound Real Estate Board president Kelly Purcell.
While in some communities people buy multiple properties to rent out for profit, that’s not the trend here, said Purcell.
“The normal thing (in West Parry Sound) is they buy or own a cottage already and see an opportunity to help them with their taxes and that sort of thing,” he said.
In his view, a municipal law banning short-term rental best applies if renting is the owner’s the primary businesses, instead of “an occasional, secondary use,” he said.
“The bylaw issue really comes down to interruption and needs to be looked at by property owners and the property owner’s legal council and the same with the township’s,” he said.
Real estate agents, if they know of a bylaw that’s being enforced, must tell their clients.
The Parry Sound Real Estate Board is seeking legal advice through the Association of Realtors on the bylaw.
“If two townships in the area, especially in the township they are buying in, are making attempts to enforce these bylaws, and they have been contested by property owners, but you should be aware as a potential buyer that if you buy it the potential for this bylaw to be enforced or the township to enact another bylaw could happen so you can’t count on that income in the future because it may come to the point you can’t, or currently can’t, rent it.”
The matter is up for discussion at Carling Township’s August meeting.
“There’s a lot of points of view on this,” said Harrison.
“You have cottage owners who want to rent their properties, you have neighbours who don’t want anybody to rent these properties, you have resorts that are commercially zoned who are struggling and upset there are people allowed to rent their properties.”