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Wasaga ready to enforce short-term rental bylaw


While Wasaga Beach is in the midst of a debate over short term housing rentals, it's no different to issues other local communities have already faced.

Earlier this year, 30 letters were sent to Wasaga Beach households warning the owners against renting out their homes this summer. In 2003, the town enacted a bylaw prohibiting anyone in an R1 residential zone to rent to anyone for a month or less. Houses in an R1 zone are labeled as single family dwellings and may not be rented short term.

"These areas have always been rented seasonally," said Donna Mullen, mortgage broker and one of the leading voices against a bylaw she calls a "bad business practice."

Wasaga Beach Mayor Cal Patterson downplays the issue, though, and says it's nothing new.

"Hopefully those who were coming up and renting illegally will start using tourist accommodations," he said.

Patterson says that similar letters have been sent out in the past. In 2003, when the bylaw was enacted, Patterson said the town had a university student study the issue and found 125 occasions where households were being rented illegally.

He calls the 30 who received letters this year are definitely in contravention of the bylaw.

Penalties for those in contravention of the bylaw are steep. According to the letter sent out, first-time offenders can be fined up to $25 000, plus an additional $10 000 for each day the violation continues. But Mullen said that despite eight years with the bylaw, no one has been charged or fined.

Mullen argues Wasaga Beach should work to find a balance and wait to see the results of an Ontario Municipal Board hearing regarding a similar issue in the Blue Mountains.

Mullen said the Blue Mountains gave residents a chance to register as a rental property while they looked into the issue.

David Finbow, director of planning for the town, said their issue developed over a period of about five years duringthe time the Village at Blue Mountain was being built.

He said the short-term rentals, which had long been normal in the area, evolved. Instead of people renting for a few weeks to go skiing in the winter, they started renting for a few days or a weekend to party.

"It changed to people who were on vacation and in party-mode," he said.

He said that it was the nuisance surrounding these party cottages -- noise, garbage and an excess of cars -- that led to most of the complaints. In 2005 they started to explore the issue and in 2008 enacted an interim control bylaw to prohibit short-term rentals. A year later they adopted an official plan amendment and zoning bylaw amendment for regulated short-term rentals. Both the 2008 bylaw and 2009 amendments were appealed to the OMB.

They are now awaiting a decision from the OMB, which Mullen said will set a precedent in the battle between short-term renters and their opponents.

After years of complaints Collingwood passed a bylaw last year prohibiting short-term rentals. In their bylaw, short-term rentals are prohibited except for bed & breakfast establishments. Senior planner for the Town of Collingwood, Trevor Houghton, said it had been an ongoing issue since at least 2001. Since the bylaw passed, though, Houghton said there seems to have been a drop in complaints.

In Wasaga Beach, Patterson said bylaw officers only respond to complaints about these rentals. Many of the complaints come from hotel operators who blame a loss of business on owners of homes in R1 zones renting to summer tourists. Patterson said there have also been complaints about these rentals attracting young people who party throughout the night.

He said there have been times when a hotel is empty, yet across the road a dozen or so cars are parked on the front lawn of a house that's being rented out to young partiers.

While Mullen understands the plight of the hotel operators, she said many people have been renting to the same couple or family for 20 years, and that the root problems have nothing to do with rentals in R1 zones. She also said that most of these renters -- especially those on the north side of Mosley Street from Highway 26 to River Road East -- can prove that they've been renting since well before the bylaw was passed in 2003.

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