RMOW suspends vacation company’s business licence

The municipality has suspended the business licence of AlluraDirect.com, a Web-based lodging and vacation services company, for facilitating the rental of residentially zoned properties on a nightly basis.

At a two-hour show cause hearing June 17 council members voted to suspend Allura’s business licence for three months.

Whether Allura, which operates out of Vancouver, needs a Whistler business licence to operate its Web service remains to be seen.

"They make a point on their Web site that they are part of the community," said Bill Barratt, general manager of community services for the municipality. "I’d think it’s important to them."

Representatives of Allura did not attend the hearing. In a letter to the municipality Allura President Suzanne Chappel explained that: "We are a small company with limited human resources that are currently 100 per cent committed to meeting significant marketing deadlines in preparation for the 2002/2003 winter season."

In addition to suspending Allura’s business licence for three months the municipality wants to see the company’s books. Sanctions imposed this week include requiring Allura to provide a list of all properties on its Web site each month, along with addresses, and a copy of records showing all rental bookings for those properties. The municipality also reserves the right to review Allura’s business and rental records at any time during normal business hours.

Allura could reduce the suspension period and have its licence reinstated by complying with all of the above conditions at any time during the suspension period.

In a presentation to council Barratt alleged that Allura is facilitating breach of a municipal zoning bylaw by advertising, marketing and processing payments for approximately 20 properties listed on its Web site which are zoned residential. The B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal have ruled that Whistler homes with residential-single family zoning can not be rented for periods of less than 28 consecutive days.

Chappel argued, in two letters to council, that Allura was doing no more than advertising properties, similar to what newspapers do.

Allura has more than 400 properties listed on its Web site. The company does not own or manage most of the properties on its site.

However, at a meeting of property managers prior to last winter municipal staff provided a list of all properties zoned for nightly rentals. Barratt said the list of "legal" properties is available to any property manager or booking agent.

Councillors voted 5-1 in favour of suspending Allura’s licence, with only Councillor Nick Davies opposed. Mayor Hugh O’Reilly was not involved in the hearing due to a conflict of interest.

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