Tackling short-term rentals in Simcoe County

With summer in full swing, the Town of Innisfil is tackling short-term rental accommodations (STAs), which it says are wreaking havoc.

"For generations, cottage owners in Innisfil have rented their cottages to their friends for a week, and it's never been an issue before," Mayor Lynn Dollin said. "What we are finding now is we have individuals and a number of companies purchasing four, five, six properties, particularly on the shoreline, which is where the biggest issue is. They are converting them, adding bedrooms and renting them out to like 30 people a night."

Referred to as 'ghost hotels,' from noise to garbage and parking complaints, it's an issue municipalities everywhere are trying to tackle.

On Wednesday, town council voted to strengthen the town's existing bylaws to curb the activity of illegal STAs and hand out fines to those not respecting or adhering to town regulations.

Additionally, recent amendments to the town's noise bylaw allows enforcement officers to charge short-term rental operations whose guests don't comply with regulations.

A ticket handed out on the spot carries a fine of $185. If taken to court, an individual can be charged up to $10,000, and a corporation can be charged up to $25,000 a day, up to a maximum of $100,000.

"I'm not saying it's the end-all to be all, and it's going to solve every issue, but we are working very hard and talking to all other municipalities to find best practices," Dollin said. "Everyone on council agrees to what the issue is. What we can't agree on is what is the best tool we need in order to facilitate this. We've also asked for the province to help us because this issue is throughout Ontario and the globe."

While some short-term rentals like Bed and Breakfasts are allowed in the town's residential zones, STA's where the owner does not primarily live on-site are not allowed.

To help with the changes, the town extended its enforcement hours at the end of May.

Staff now work until 11 p.m. on weekdays and until 2 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and holidays until the Labour Day weekend.

"We haven't received any calls yet regarding noise after the 11 p.m., but we encourage residents who may not be aware of it to call us," said Mitchel Harris, Innisfil's Community Standards Leader.

It's welcomed news for residents like Shel Geller, who has owned a cottage in Innisfil for 60 years.

He says about two years ago, a short-term rental set up shop next door, and that's when the nightmare began.

"These folks had no interest in maintaining the beauty and the quiet of the community they came up to party," said Geller. "Occasionally, the police were called at three in the morning because of the commotion, cars were parked all over the lawn, on the roadway, and garbage was left strewn about… I applaud them for what they have put forward."

They are changes other municipalities like Oro-Medonte are also looking at implementing.

Last meeting, council asked staff to prepare a report to determine the costs of hiring additional personnel to monitor neighbours in the evening to help police illegal rentals around the clock.

"One of the recommendations in the report was considering hiring an outside company, we are not so sure they may be as responsive, we wanted to take a look to see if that was the best way to go or if employing more of our staff or relocating them would be the best option," said Mayor Harry Hughes. "We also asked for a hotline so that residents can get immediate response to someone live."

The mayor says doing so will also help the town get evidence to use in court cases, which are currently backlogged.

"What's happening is that although we charge, the short-term rentals keep continuing until we get a chance to bring them before the courts. We've had a couple of them waiting for almost a year now, and we are preparing others that will just extend that backlog," said Hughes. "In the meantime, we are looking to see what else we can be doing. The people who would be going around would also be able to document those cases and be able to provide that evidence in court."

That report is expected to come back to council early next month.

As for Innisfil, the town plans to continue tracking the situation with a report expected to come back next spring.