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Nov. 30, 2021 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Editorial: Short-term rentals: Part 2: Too much influence
Editorial.

They don’t pay commercial tax, they pay a nominal annual fee per room and now they’re being excluded from collecting Niagara-on-the-Lake's planned accommodation tax.

Short-term rentals have taken hold in our community and are having a lasting, damaging effect on our town — as they have in other towns and cities ... everywhere.

As we’ve stated in previous editorials, there are some people who don’t even have neighbours any more, thanks to the invasion of short-term rentals.

Yet, despite the globally reported damages caused by this industry, NOTL's town council is catering to stakeholders — so much that it formed a whole specific committee to deal with the industry.

Read that again — a whole town committee for one industry. That gives the rental sector a lot of influence over our elected officials.

We don’t have committees for the wine industry or the theatre industry or most other industries, let alone creating one to deal with a group that essentially should have been illegal from the outset.

While we wish this industry had never got a foothold in the community, and we wish their operation was not allowed, it seems that the short-term rental phenomenon is here to stay. So, NOTL council needs to deal with that reality and establish some controls, like the accommodation levy and ensuring rentals are owner-occupied.

What you’ll often hear from people who are on the inside of this industry is that without short-term rentals, NOTL’s tourism sector would suffer.

That’s egregious and there is zero evidence to support it. And charging a nominal accommodation tax, like dozens of other muncipalities do, will not kill the entire short-term rental industry.

People will still come to NOTL in droves. They’ll stay in hotels, regular bed and breakfasts. Or pay the nominal tax if council finds the courage to charge it across the board.

We live beside Niagara Falls, just the backwash of tourists from there will sustain our tourism, realistically.

Another issue these stakeholders like to bring up is noise complaints.

They make it look like noise and partying is the main problem, and say they're aiming to fix it.

But noise is the least of the problems. Your real neighbours (if you’re lucky enough to have them any more) can be just as loud as a group of guests.

Don't get us wrong, there is also an alarming lack of oversight for these businesses. Not regulated to the same standards as hotels, for the most part they are self-regulating — and now taxpayers must shoulder the burden for third-party compliance companies the town has to hire, like the $45,000 Granicus Host Compliance contract signed in 2021, to help identify unregistered rentals and curb noise complaints.

But tackling issues like noise without addressing the true problems is like using a Band-Aid on a severed limb.

It’s just not enough.

The real, unavoidable issue with short-term rentals is that they hollow out our communities and replace our homes with hotels.

The way the industry is allowed to operate currently allows investors to purchase homes, not to live in, but to profit from. And they sell them the same way.

It’s time for our councillors to tackle these highly illegal businesses operating within our communities. It’s time to recognize that you, and politicians before you, were asleep at the switch when this industry started to take over residential homes.

What’s next? Do we allow retail stores in people's garages? Can we turn our kitchens into restaurants and unfairly compete with the culinary industry? Can your neighbour turn her backyard into a brew pub or winery?

It’s time to get real and put an end to this dangerous, precedent-setting mistake. We need to stop all short-term rentals from operating unless the home is the primary residence of the owner. We need to stop letting investors purchase up our homes and turn them into hotels. We need to put an end to housing market increases and unfair competition for home buyers due in part to homes becoming businesses instead of places to live.

And if it’s too late (it’s not, despite what our politicians will tell you) then we need to rezone rentals as commercial properties and charge the appropriate taxes.

Meanwhile, the very, very least council can do is to ensure these commercial businesses collect the accommodation tax, the same as any other hotel will have to.

The Lake Report will continue to advocate for short-term rentals to be declared what they are: illegal and a blight on our town.

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