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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
Local News
Noisy, unlicensed 'party house' frustrates neighbours



Music pounding day and night. Ten or more people partying, with no physical distancing. Trash and booze bottles strewn outside. An unkempt and overgrown yard.

And no help from the town.

That's what Chris and Jane Hutchings say they have been dealing with almost every weekend since last November when the historic two-plus-one bedroom home next to theirs at Byron and Wellington streets became an AirBnB rental for up to 10 guests.   

"We don't want to come across as grumpy old people" trying to stop younger folks from having fun, said Jane Hutchings.

"We'd just like to have some recourse," added her husband. "The last thing we want to do is phone the police or walk over," knock on the door and face a possible confrontation with the "party house" renters.

The town has known about problems at the house at 89 Byron St. in Old Town since at least last February. That's when a bylaw enforcement officer knocked on the Hutchings' door and asked about complaints from other neighbours about the house.

It's not just any old house: it's the historic, one-of-a-kind home designed and built by the late Canadian artist Campbell Scott. In 2010, the house was officially designated by the town as a property of cultural heritage value.

The house rents for up to $667 per night. As well, the property is listed for sale on MLS for $1.5 million.

Now owned by someone from Brampton, its online scheduling calendar indicates it is booked as a short-term rental every weekend this summer through November.

Despite that, it is not licensed as a short-term rental property, according to the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. But until a tougher bylaw is passed, it appears there is little the town legally can do to stop unlicensed rentals from operating.

The town says it has received and is processing a number of complaints and has advised the owner of the problems. The town would not reveal any specifics of the complaints.

It is literally a quiet neighbourhood, normally. The Hutchings' property, a beautiful, well-kept oasis, abuts the graveyard at St. Mark's Anglican Church. Across the street is the cemetery at St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church and Simcoe Park is barely a block away.

Chris and Jane Hutchings and other neighbours, like James Booty, said they have tried to follow all the proper protocols – complaining to the town, repeatedly, even contacting the mayor directly, but to no avail.

It has had no effect on the problems. And as far as they know, nothing has been done by the town to curb the partying – in at least one case they say 14 people were on the property – which continues without fail every Friday and Saturday night. On long weekends, they said it can start on Thursday.

This past weekend a tent was set up on the property, they noted.

And in the era of COVID-19, the partiers – inevitably younger people and often mostly males – certainly are not practising physical and social distancing, the neighbours said.

On Saturday, Niagara Regional Police officers were dispatched to the house about 3:30 in the afternoon and "the resident agreed to turn down the music," said Const. Phil Gavin.

It's unclear who called the police. Prior to that, about midday, Jane Hutchings emailed owner Ratul Kumar, having recently obtained his contact info. Around 2 p.m. Kumar responded apologetically and said he had been assured there would be no more loud music or noise.

Hutchings said there was a brief respite, but then the music was cranked back up.

Realtor Tom Elltoft was in the area and thought there was an outdoor concert happening at nearby Simcoe Park. He happened to be doing some work inside the old NOTL hospital around the corner and it was so loud "my first thought was there was a band in the park or demonstration on Queen Street."

Around 4 p.m. he saw the police at the Campbell Scott house and heard the music blasting.

Elltoft is familiar with the rental property and said he has seen cars with U.S. plates parked there on occasion.

"This is not the first story I’ve heard about unlicensed bed and breakfasts with out-of-country guests. The concern is not just about noise but have these guests self-quarantined?" he told The Lake Report.

On Tuesday, Kumar responded by email to a series of questions from The Lake Report, saying he is out of town, but added that the property is rented to a numbered company. He said he would respond after speaking to the people associated with the company.

He did not answer any of the specific questions that were put to him about the property or the complaints and upkeep issues.

Booty and his partner Brett Sherlock live on Wellington Street about 50 metres north of the house.

Despite the distance, they hear the music and noise, and have had enough.

"The town is not taking any action," Booty said in an interview. He doesn't begrudge someone trying to operate a business, but with renters causing grief almost every weekend, "The owner is trying to maximize profit at the expense of the neighbours."

Because Kumar, the owner, resides two hours away in Brampton – and apparently does not have an on-site or local property manager – even though he was apologetic about the noise, he is not in a position to act when problems arise, Booty said.

The disturbances caused by the guests are "unreasonable behaviour" and Booty said the town needs to take action promptly.

"We understand the town and bylaw officers are stretched, but this seems to be a clear case," he said. And while bylaw infractions are complaint-driven, the neighbours are seeing no results from their complaints, he added.

"There has to be action from the town, more than just issuing parking tickets" in other parts of NOTL, Booty said.

Another problem is on weekends, short of flagging down a bylaw enforcement officer who is busy ticketing illegal parkers, there is no way to notify the town when the partying is causing headaches. And the town says the neighbours' only option after-hours or weekends is to call the police.

Booty and the Hutchings say they have told bylaw officers they just need to drop around any weekend, often from 11 a.m. onward, to witness the noise.

They noted NOTL Coun. Gary Burroughs lives a block away and said he also has complained to the town. Burroughs could not be reached for comment.

David Levesque, president of the NOTL Bed and Breakfast Association, said anyone with similar complaints should use the town's online reporting system.

"The formal thing to do is to file a complaint on the town's website using the 'Online Service Request & Complaint Form.' Each request or complaint is assigned a number and processed, therefore it is the best way to report anything and make sure it is not getting lost under piles of other emails," he told The Lake Report.

"That said, If you know how to reach the owner or manager of a short-term rental, the very first thing to do is to talk to them directly if you have concerns. Trying to solve these issues in a neighbourly manner should always be the first course of action."

Gavin said police officers regularly have to deal with noise issues.

"When we attend a noise complaint and request the noise be turned down it is customary for the member of the public to be cautioned regarding continued or further noise," Gavin said.

"We would prefer people be respectful of their neighbours and the community. Sometimes that doesn’t happen or sometimes people don’t realize how loud they are being."