Thursday, July 6th, 2023

Short term Rentals – A Muskoka Tradition or a Pariah

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association (MRA) lauds this Council and By-law staff for their efforts to control the negative impacts of short term accommodation unit rentals on the residents of Muskoka Lakes. However, the MRA believes that the implementation of a licensing by-law is not warranted. It is costly to administer, for both renters and the Township. We believe it is unlikely to significantly improve the current problems associated with short term rentals. The MRA would offer the following suggestions for your consideration.

Since the start of vacationing in Muskoka, people have rented rooms in their homes or separate buildings to the travelling public. This was often in direct competition with local hotels and resorts. After WW II and the growth of vacation cottages, many families started to rent their cottages to friends and the public for a week or more each summer to help pay property taxes and/or make capital repairs. In many cases the renters returned year after year. This arrangement was well known and rarely were there negative impacts on adjacent property owners. Renting a cottage became a Muskoka Tradition.

What has changed over the past couple of decades:

  • The internet has provided a plethora of global rental options
  • Several short term rental companies like VRBO or AirBnB provide global reach to owners and renters, expanding the market
  • Weekly person to person rentals were the norm in the past, but today pricing is often daily, which may attract a younger party clientele
  • Renters have more vacation time and increased flexibility to choose a day or two, or a week or a month
  • An increasing number of properties in Muskoka can accommodate multiple families
  • Some owners rent individual rooms in cottages. Kitchens, living rooms and the grounds are considered common areas
  • Some owners purchase cottages exclusively for these daily short term rentals
  • Owners and renters are often just names; the personal connection has disappeared.

What is the problem?

All these changes and others have increased road and water traffic, parking issues, noise and environmental stressors that can negatively impact the tranquility for neighbouring property owners.

Is a Licensing By-Law the solution to these ills?

In the opinion of the MRA, trying to essentially regulate human behavior is like trying to regulate the weather. It is impossible.
The Township has budgeted almost $400,000 to enforce the proposed short term rental by-law. In addition, each licensee could have to pay an undetermined annual fee, complete significant paperwork and pay any other costs i.e. safety inspections, management services etc. Last year there were less than ten documented complaints about short term renters.

This proposed by-law is expensive and time consuming for both the Township and property owners (taxpayers) and is unlikely to achieve the desired results. The Township is only budgeting a 50% compliance level (optimistic). Many property owners will seek alternatives to bypass licensing i.e. minimize advertising on monitored websites, move to monthly rentals, screen clients more closely. Enforcement is primarily complaint driven. which requires the complainant to attach their name to all complaints. Many neighbours are reluctant to identify themselves.

The MRA is making the following suggestions that we believe would better achieve the Township’s objectives:

  • Promote the Responsible Renters Code of Conduct introduced in 2018 to all property owners and every renter
  • Enforce the Administrative Monetary Penalty System (AMPS) to fine rather than prosecute by-law infractions (hold the owner responsible)
  • Enhance current Parking and Noise by-laws to encompass problems related to short term rental properties
  • Out and out prohibit the renting of any non-commercial cottage, condo or accommodation unit for less than 7 days to eliminate the “Weekend Warrior” type of renter unless the owner or designee is physically present on site
  • Limit the number of people staying in any short term accommodation unit, based on any combination of the following: number of bedrooms, or maximum number of people allowed in the unit at any time, or the septic capacity, or number of toilets or square footage etc.
  • Prohibit the renting or the sub-renting portions of any short term rental accommodation unit, unless an owner or designee is residing on site.

The MRA supports measures that enhance the quiet enjoyment of an owner’s property and the preservation of the environment. However, the Township of Muskoka Lakes and elected officials have a responsibility to implement cost effective solutions that drive compliance, not administratively burdensome by-laws that are costly for taxpayers and encourage creative avoidance and work arounds.

Liz Denyar