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Prince George city council asks for clarity on enforcement of new short-term rental rules

When act takes effect May 1st, property owners will have to comply or face fines of $3,000 per day
New rules coming into effect May 1st in B.C. will affect Airbnb and other short-term rental accommodation business operators.

If the province gets its way and puts the clamp on owners of short-term rental accommodation who want to rent out properties that are not their principal residences, who will enforce that law?

That was a question Coun. Brian Skakun asked at Monday’s public meeting.

The city wants to opt out of the Short-Term Accommodations Act but according to B.C’s Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon, in a March 18 letter to Mayor Simon Yu, Prince George does not meet the criteria that requires a minimum three per cent rental vacancy rate in two consecutive years.

Skakun and fellow councilors Garth Frizzell, Kyle Sampson, and Susan Scott as well as city manager Water Babicz, will represent the city’s Standing Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs when they travel to Victoria April 9-11 for an advocacy delegation trip and they are planning to meet with Kahlon to discuss the issue with the provincial government.

“I think (Khalon’s response is) really unfortunate, and I’m not going to go after them,” said Skakun. “I think the opposition parties, because a provincial election is coming up, they’ve already started taking this up (as an election issue).

“As far as I’m concerned, our push isn’t over, and lot of it isn’t in our hands. It just seems to me the province is dug in, they’ve made up their mind and they’re not listening to a lot of what local governments have to say.”

According to the act, owners of short-term rentals have until May 1st to comply with the new laws or risk fines of up to $3,000 per day for continuing to rent property that is not a primary residence or part of a secondary suite or accessory dwelling unit on that property.

While enforcement would be a provincial jurisdiction, Skakun asked administration at Monday’s public meeting how it would handle releasing information to the province.

“If we maintain the status quo and these Airbnbs still operate, what would happen?” said Skakun. “Would the minister go through the city to try to get business licence information? How much are they going to use us and the information we have to go after some of these owners?”

Babicz responded that while information on business licences could be shared with the province he doesn’t know how much city staff would be involved in enforcement of the new legislation, if at all.

To ensure compliance, by late this year or early in 2025 the province plans to establish a registry of short-term rental properties to ensure hosts and online booking platforms are following the rules. Each host will be required to register with the province and include that registry number on their listing and platforms will be required to validate the registration numbers so they comply with the information included in the registry. It’s expected the cost of operating that registry will be $30 million annually.

In his letter to Yu, Kahlon said the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data used to determine the total overall vacancy rate for Prince George was 2.8 per cent, below the three per cent minimum threshold and was based on a ‘Very Good” data quality rating which makes the vacancy rate statistically reliable.

According to Kahlon, “the inclusion of the 3 bedrooms + row home units in the total vacancy rate does not make the total vacancy rate statistically unreliable; to the contrary, it makes the rate more reliable as the sample size is larger.”

“He almost seems to contradict his own numbers there,” said Coun. Trudy Klassen.

When they do meet with Kahlon, the councilors plan to show that the number of vacancies for the three-bedroom units and row home units were not accurately reflected when the province determined the city’s overall vacancy rate.

The CMHC data was based on a survey of property managers and apartment building owners obtained during the first two weeks of October and council is in agreement that it not a true indictor of the actual vacancy rate.

Klassen suggested council write another letter to Khalon to further explain how short-term rentals are used to accommodate families coming to Prince George for medical purposes or hospice care and they don’t want to stay in hotels.

“Long hospital stays and having to go back to a hotel is just miserable, plus all the health care staff that come on contracts, they come on short-term contracts that are just short of that three-month period for a long-term rental.

‘”If we can make sure we have a good argument (to present to Khalon) backed up by more stats, especially as it regards health care professionals.”

Advocates who have spoken out against the new rules have said the changes will seriously impact tourism in B.C. and make it too expensive to travel, especially for larger families who need more than one hotel room.

In October the province said it had 28,000 active short-term rental listings.

According to Airbnb data released last week, the company’s registered hosts who rented space in British Columbia in 2023 paid $93 million in taxes to the province. Payments for municipal/regional district taxes, at a rate of three per cent, generated $23 million, while provincial sales tax, at eight per cent, brought in $69 million.

When it began collecting the tax in 2018 the NSP government said it would be used to fund initiatives to make housing more affordable, while the money earmarked for municipalities would go be used to promote tourism.

That tax revenue is expected to drop significantly in cities with populations greater than 10,000 that are not allowed to opt out of the new rules which take effect in May.