By Loreth Beswetherick
It was the tour buses and overt commercial rental of homes in areas zoned exclusively for residential use that spurred councillors to start cracking down on temporary rentals three years ago.
Councillors have now given approval for the municipality to file injunctions to stop more than a dozen homes being rented out temporarily. At least four legal actions were launched last week, naming 11 defendants.
It has been a circuitous route to court. After considering temporary use permits and then rezoning as tools for legalizing tourist accommodations in residential areas, early last month council voted to enforce the residential zoning of Whistler neighbourhoods and not consider any zoning applications for tourist use — a complete about-face from their policy adopted in March last year.
And under the current zoning bylaw covering single family homes, the only tenants permitted must be either residents or employees of Whistler. The home also has to be a fixed place of living.
But, a group of homeowners — including Jeremy Bowman, Peter DeJong, Beverly Richardson and David Wright among others — say council is on a ridiculous path that does not reflect the opinion of the majority of Whistler property owners. They have consulted with lawyers and held several meetings. Their goal is to contact everyone who applied for tourist accommodation zoning, put together a petition and lobby council to revisit their decision to not allow any temporary rentals in residential neighbourhoods.
Bowman, a member of the group who has been renting his Whistler Cay home for the last 10 years, said municipal bylaws are very specific. He said RMOW planning staff have told him he is not allowed to rent his home to anyone who does not live in Whistler full-time or is not an employee in Whistler.
"I am not allowed to rent my home to a Vancouver resident who wants to come up for a weekend of skiing," said Bowman. "It is not even permissible for that person to pay me with a bottle of wine. I can’t let my uncle or aunt use my house and receive payment for it. I can’t rent it over Christmas, because I am effectively breaking the law," said Bowman.
He said enforcing the bylaw could be a nightmare and if council intends to uphold the zoning bylaw, they will have to clamp down on everybody.
RMOW planner Mike Kirkegaard said rentals in residential areas are permitted if the period "exceeds four consecutive weeks and the tenants are using the dwelling as their residence." That means a week of holiday skiing is out. "There is also a second part to that definition of temporary rentals," said Kirkegaard. "A residential dwelling must also be a fixed place of living. It has to be a residence. If you rent it out, the tenant has to be residing there."
Bowman said it would appear the bylaw technically doesn’t even accommodate second homeowners.
He said the current situation will only force the business of temporary rental underground and this could mean a loss of tax dollars. This is what he will be telling a BCTV news crew coming to Whistler this weekend to cover the tourist accommodation issue.
Bowman said a petition he is circulating will basically pose the question: Are you in agreement with the fact no house in a residential area can be rented out to anyone for less than four consecutive weeks in a calendar year?
"I feel there will be a groundswelling of people building a momentum... much stronger than council realizes," said Bowman. "If council doesn’t open the issue and deal with it before the election, we will make it an election issue."
David Wright, a White Gold homeowner said Bowman’s petition will add to those already circulating. "I don’t think we are going to sway the present council but anyone who throws a hat in for the next election is going to have to make their position extremely clear on the issue," said Wright. He said he has a list of up to 1,000 homeowners who are eligible to vote. "And we will put that to work." He will also be contacting West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Ted Nebbeling, who also applied for TA zoning for his home in Brio. "It’s a matter of him representing his constituents. There are a lot of people who live in West Vancouver and own homes in Whistler," said Wright. "If he applied he is obviously in favour."
Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said the group can go ahead and make this an election issue.
"That’s fine. As far as I am concerned we have dealt with this. For the last three years we went around and around and around and we gave it as thorough a hearing and review as humanly possible," said Wilhelm-Morden.
"Fundamentally, you can’t get around the fact the majority of the people don’t want these operations in their neighbourhoods so I don’t know what this group can say that will change anyone’s mind. I never want to say I am not going to listen but it’s a huge, huge mountain for them to climb as far as I am concerned to even open the door again. I think my view reflects the majority view."
Wright said the group is in favour of controls. He said most people didn’t like the permanence of zoning. He said the group has always maintained that some sort of renewable permit system should be initiated. He said that way the bus issue can be addressed and controlled, along with safety issues, and limits can be imposed.
"All that can be handled. We pay taxes and that goes into the economy... and that benefits everyone." said Wright.