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Whistler looks to flex new powers from province on short-term rentals

Municipalities can now fine short-term rental operators $3,000 per day for non-compliance, and the RMOW will do just that
Whistler wants to increase the amount it can fine non-compliant STRs.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) wants to increase the amount it can fine non-compliant tourist accommodations (short-term rentals) by 200 per cent.

Under changes given first, second and third reading at the May 14 regular council meeting, fines issued under the Municipal Ticket Information System (MTI)—or more simply, Tourist Accommodation Fines—will increase from $1,000 to $3,000 per day under new maximums allowed by changes to the province’s Short Term Rentals Act (Bill 35).

Introduced by the NDP government in October 2023, the new legislation aims to shift more short-term rentals into long-term.

According to the RMOW’s manager of protective services, Lindsay Debou, the changes designed to motivate property owners to shift housing into long-term do not directly benefit Whistler due to its specific zoning for tourist accommodation and ban on short-term rentals in residential areas, but the changes did allow the municipality to up maximum fines, and at the same time introduced new enforcement tools that make it easier for staff to track short-term rentals in the community and crack down on any discrepancies.

On the fines, the motivation is to help discourage non-compliant tourist accommodation, though Debou said generally, compliance in Whistler is “quite high.”

According to a staff report, so far in 2024, the RMOW has written 61 tickets for non-compliant tourist accommodation. Challenges to the tickets do not go well for property owners, according to the municipality: So far, there have been 11 bylaw notices heard in adjudication hearings relating to non-compliant tourism accommodation, and all of them (100 per cent) have gone in the RMOW’s favour. Likewise, in 2023, 94 per cent of disputes were ruled in the RMOW’s favour.

“As these numbers indicate, staff occasionally have people try to dispute their fines,” reads the RMOW report.

“But this case history indicates that the RMOW has been highly successful in defending against associated disputes.”

Last year the RMOW collected almost $5,000 through payment hearings for unpaid fines, and expects to collect up to $15,000 through payment hearings in 2024. The municipality also recently engaged with a debt-collection agency to pursue unpaid fines on its behalf.

The dollar amount of penalties levied at non-compliant tourism accommodation providers came up for questioning from council members, with Councillors Jessie Morden and Jeff Murl saying $3,000 didn’t seem like enough, though staff cautioned the RMOW should follow through with the change permitted by the province before advocating for further increases.

Councillors unanimously approved the changes to the municipal bylaws, which received first, second and third reading.

Mayor Jack Crompton said he was pleased with the new tools being handed to municipalities by the province in enforcing short-term rentals.

“Our community has done a very good job with this over the years, and I’m excited for these new tools that actually allow [bylaw] to do an even better job,” he said.

After a break, council returned to the issue of how high the fines could go, and came back with a call for higher fines through advocacy at the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM), with a motion to ask the province to allow MTI fines to be increased to $10,000 per day through a UBCM resolution.

Coun. Jen Ford, who moved the motion, said municipalities had asked for something like that before, so it wasn’t a new idea—but still worthy of pursuing.

“I think it is timely given housing legislation that is looking to deliver homes for people, and this is one opportunity for us to support that work and to support the community that have been asking us to increase these fines for many years,” she said. “And so this is an easy one for us to support.”

Also in the proposed UBCM resolution, councillors asked for an increase in the maximum amount for bylaw notices that could be levied against non-compliant short-term rentals, to $5,000. The current maximum for any bylaw notice penalty is $500. Bylaw notices are issued for violations of municipal bylaws.

The difference between an MTI and a bylaw notice, according to Debou, is a bylaw notice can be mailed to the owner of a property and challenged locally in Whistler, whereas an MTI fine must be delivered to a property owner in person, and can only be challenged in court in North Vancouver. Functionally, bylaw notices are easier for a municipality to apply, but have a maximum finable amount of $500: Hence the RMOW council asking for that to be increased by 900 per cent.

Other changes benefiting Whistler include a new provincial requirement that short-term rental listings have business licenses included with listings online, and a new provincial registry the RMOW could cross-check with its own registry to keep track of things.

Municipalities are also now empowered to ask short-term rental websites to remove non-compliant listings under the provincial changes.

The bylaw amendments will be adopted at a future meeting.