Queen Charlotte council is taking a first step on the tightrope of regulating Airbnbs.
On one hand, councillors are acting out of concern that the village has lost some much-needed rental housing to Airbnb — a popular network for short-term vacation rentals.
On the other, they want residents to join in the islands’ growing tourism economy, and Airbnb is a handy way to do it.
Speaking at an unusually crowded meeting on May 22, councillors explained why they want to follow Vancouver’s lead and change the Village of Queen Charlotte zoning bylaw so that Airbnb-style rentals are restricted to properties where an owner or a long-term renter is around.
“The idea is that Airbnb or short-term rentals will be secondary to the primary residence,” said Councillor Devin Rachar.
“As long as there is a permanent resident living on the property, there is no issue there.”
The proposed bylaw would also prevent short-term vacation rentals in industrial areas, apartments, public buildings, or areas zoned for natural-resource management.
Anyone running an Airbnb-style rental will also be required to have one parking space for each sleeping unit in the rental, and another for the owner or long-term renter.
Finally, Queen Charlotte is also preparing to join Masset and Port Clements in introducing business licenses, and Airbnb-style rentals will have to get one — the village basically considers them home-based businesses.
“We’re not outlawing Airbnbs,” said Mayor Greg Martin, adding that the proposed bylaw is still in early stages and the village will host more public meetings on the changes. Letters have gone out to owners of the 39 Airbnb rentals running in the village now.
As for business licensing, council recently appointed seven local business owners to a committee tasked with considering the best way to set it up.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be onerous,” Martin said.
They include Jesse Embree of Nite Owl U-Brew, Kimberley Claggett of Junebug Café and Gifts, general contractor Matt Pierce, Carl Coffey of Crabapple Creek Enterprises, Danny Robertson of Highlander Marine, Terri Walker of Haida Gwaii Accounting and Income Tax, and Sabrina Frazier, a village councillor and co-owner of the Revive Therapeutic Centre.
During the meeting, one person who runs an Airbnb rental said she was concerned she might not qualify as a present owner since she technically owns three lots and doesn’t live on the one that has a cabin rented through Airbnb.
She also asked about a floathouse on Airbnb — it doesn’t have an owner or long-term resident living in it.
Village staff are now reviewing both questions.
Another person who rents through Airbnb said she hoped the changes would encourage everyone to meet a minimum standard for short-term vacation rentals, noting that one bad experience could turn people off returning to Haida Gwaii.
Update: As of June 5, this story has been changed to reflect the fact that the village is now reviewing two questions raised at the May 22 council meeting about short-term vacation rentals. The first concerned an owner of three lots who does not reside on the lot with a short-term vacation rental — staff say it could be an issue under the proposed bylaw, depending on whether the lots are adjacent, and they are reviewing the particular case. The second question concerned a floathouse available for short-term vacation rentals — staff say the municipality can regulate the nearby water surface, and are also reviewing that case to see if the proposed bylaw would apply.