The rise in home owners offering short-term and vacation rentals through companies such as AirBnB, Craigslist and VRBO is making a significant impact on many strata corporations across the Lower Mainland. The line between a hotel and a traditional rental is being blurred.
Many strata councils are taking a firm stance against these short-term rentals by issuing bylaw violation fines under their existing bylaws, while working to have new stricter bylaws passed. The councils are not wrong in wanting to address the issue; however, an even keel and planned approach will yield the best results.
What We Know
For the unit owners renting out their homes, online rental services can be a good source of income while delivering a unique vacation experience for travelers.
There are thousands of listings for short-term rentals in Metro Vancouver through AirBnB, VRBO, HomeAway, Kijiji and Craigslist. Many are for condos and townhomes that are part of strata corporations.
Strata corporations are understandably concerned about security. When neighbours do not recognize each other, keys and fobs are harder to track, and short-term renters are less likely to follow security protocols.
The City of Vancouver does not allow a person to use a dwelling unit for less than one month unless it is a hotel or bed and breakfast, as per Section 10.21.6 of the Zoning and Development Bylaws.
The City of Vancouver and other cities in Metro Vancouver do not provide resources to actively enforce this bylaw, so strata councils are trying to address the issue themselves.
Traditional bylaws used by strata corporations may not apply due to their wording. Short-term rentals can be deemed a “licence” instead of the traditional “rental” and the bylaws therefore may not apply.
What to Do
Strata councils need to engage the ownership they represent to better understand their community’s wants and needs. Open discussions at general meetings of the ownership, along with surveys and information sessions held within the building, are a great way to gather feedback.
If those that have opposing views can better understand the other’s position, there typically will not be any surprises at the general meeting when it comes to voting on a new rental bylaw. Information sessions also allow any objections to be addressed or potential revisions to be accommodated in the proposed bylaw changes.
The council then needs to design new bylaws that reflect the community’s needs. In most cases, this will be limiting rentals/licences to a specific time period such as six or 12 months.
Further regulations may be warranted such as well worded bylaws for “move-in” fees or restrictions on advertising terms for the rental/licence agreement.
The ownership will then need to approve the proposed bylaw changes at a general meeting and have them filed with the Land Title Office to be enforceable.
Finally the strata council and the management company can begin working on ensuring owners know of the changes and are in compliance with the new bylaws.
A Solid Action Plan
Below is a common plan of action for strata councils in addressing short-term rentals:
- Have an open discussion at your next annual general meeting to gather input from the owners in attendance. Stay open-minded and record concerns and objections.
- Create a summary page that identifies why the council feels there needs to be a change, what the impact would be, any proposed bylaw changes, how short-term rentals will be tracked, and when the changes to short-term rentals would take place.
- Share the summary page with the ownership. One way to accomplish this is by including it with the distribution of meeting minutes. Consider including contact information so owners may provide additional feedback.
- Hold a meeting in the lobby or amenity room with council members present to answer any questions about the proposed changes. This is the time to engage the ownership and ensure the council’s plan is clearly articulated.
- If a change in bylaws is needed, ask your strata manager for assistance. Your management company will also assist in ensuring a general meeting is called and a vote held for approval of the bylaws.
- Educate the ownership by broadcasting the changes through email, notices, and letters to the owners.
- Site staff, such as building managers and concierge personnel, should be trained on the changes so that they can educate the ownership and be part of a successful implementation.
- Identify those owners who are not complying with the changes. Send them correspondence that outlines the new changes that have been implemented.
- Reinforce the changes in strata council meeting minutes and other correspondence.
- Send bylaw violation warning letters to those owners who are in contravention. If no response is received, contacting the owner’s agent directly or calling the owner may be required.
- Continue following up and be consistent with all owners.
- Review short-term rentals on an annual basis and be prepared to make minor changes or updates, as needed, to best reflect your community’s needs.
Additional Items to Consider
If the council does not understand the ownership’s needs, it may be difficult passing the required ¾ vote. Specific bylaw wording will be needed to address short term rentals that may not qualify as a defined “tenancy”. Consult your strata management company in regards to crafting the appropriate bylaw wording.
There may be insurance coverage issues if residential units are being used for non-residential means, such as short-term rentals.
The Strata Property Act requires a one-year exemption for rental units after a new bylaw restricting rentals is passed. If this is applicable to a strata corporation, the year exemption should be planned for and reminders issued well in advance.
Persistent, consistent action is the key to weaving bylaw changes into the fabric of your strata.