No Short-Term Accommodation licensing in Napanee — yet

Greater Napanee’s Historic Town Hall on Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2024. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Short-term accommodations in Greater Napanee will not need to be licensed — yet.

This was the conclusion of a lengthy discussion by the Council of the Town of Greater Napanee at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2024. Council was provided with a Short Term Accommodations (STAs) Report, as they had previously requested. Based on the detailed results of the public consultation that ran from February 6 to March 26, 2024, and the investigation by staff, the report weighed the pros and cons of implementing a licensing requirement for STAs in the community. After a circuitous discussion, it was decided that more investigation was still needed before the town could proceed with a licensing decision.

Council first heard a delegation from Tony Balasevicius, a former STA owner who made several arguments against implementing a licensing system that he said would “end up costing the town far more money than it will bring in, to provide little or no meaningful benefit to taxpayers.”

“In the vast majority of cases, the motivation to implement this type of regulation has been focused on addressing two pressing policy issues for very specific communities.” In larger centres, Balasevicius said, it is done to maintain or access long-term rental stock, “while in tourist destinations it has been put into place to support and manage the community’s long-term development.” 

Outside of these policy issues, justification for licensing becomes less clear but usually centres on the attempt to deal with nuisance issues — which, for the most part, are already covered under existing bylaws within the community, according to Balasevicius.

He noted that in Kingston, “it was costing the city almost three times as much to administer the program as it generated in revenue” and that because “non-compliant owners operate in an unfair competitive advantage over compliant ones,” the program basically ends up being punitive to compliant owners.

Next, Alice Karlson made a delegation against the licensing system. Karlson owns Daverne Farmhouse, which she rents out to large families and other groups for weddings, reunions, and work meetings. She detailed that her rental earnings go mainly to the upkeep of her bicentennial farmhouse. She called her profits “modest” and indicated that a licensing system would likely impact her decision to continue running her business.

When it came time to discuss the Short Term Accommodations Report, Councillor Angela Hicks began by noting that though there are many great STAs, some are less so: “I personally know of some that cause a great deal of negative impact… So the question becomes, how are we going to address the ones that are causing the problem?” 

“The next question is, are there public safety issues occurring due to the growth of unregulated STAs?” She brought up the fire at an illegal Airbnb in Montreal last year, in which seven people were killed. (Hicks mistakenly said 16 people.) “How do we ensure the safety of the people that are staying in these places? How do we ensure that they don’t have three bedrooms in the basement with no egress windows? And legally, what is the responsibility of the municipality should a fire occur? What responsibility do we have?”

“I don’t think we’ll come to a yes or no decision tonight [on] implementing or imposing something. But I think we all need to think very carefully,” Hicks concluded.

Councillor Dave Pinnell spoke next, saying, “One of the reasons why I would like to have the short-term accommodations regulated is so we know where they are, so there can be fire inspections done. In my professional career as a realtor, I have seen many times… that someone wishes to call a room a bedroom [but it] does not have a window — or if it does have a window, it’s too small to provide egress, or the window is too high.”

He acknowledged that the delegations had made him realize “it is going to be a rabbit hole… of making sure that everybody’s in compliance that we don’t have quite figured out yet.” He suggested the town may have to pay for more bylaw enforcement hours in the long run.

Tony Balasevicius indicated in his delegation that in his experience as an owner of STAs, a licensing system would “end up costing the town far more money than it will bring in to provide little or no meaningful benefit to taxpayers.” Screen captured image.

Safety concerns were raised again by Councillor Bill Martin, who also expressed concern for small operators who only use one space on their property as a means of livelihood. “Some of them use it to help pay their mortgage, some of them use it offset expenses, whatever they use it for.” 

“I hope we don’t decide on anything tonight, because I need more information to make an informed decision,” Martin said.

Councillor Mike Schenk indicated he was familiar with some problematic operators in the municipality, “and we have nothing but problems with the neighbours. We have retired people who live right beside these other shoreline residential and other places that are rented out. And it’s just a party fiasco for the whole week… So we have some serious problems that we’re going to have to deal with.”

Schenk spoke for a while longer concerning questions and problems he had come up with, concluding, “But all I’m saying is we have to come up with a solution that if there’s a few that are really bad, how can we nail those without impacting everybody?… So there’s a lot of things that we still have to find out: what we can do, what we can’t do, and what’s the best plan of attack here?”

Mayor Terry Richardson said, “I think staff will come back with a more robust idea of what the fees and stuff are… What we need to keep in mind is that any enforcement is never cost recovery. Policing is never cost recovery; bylaw is never cost recovery. Still, we do have an onus for our landowners and our homeowners to try and regulate and control the activities going on.”

He commended Karlson for her positively run STA, with the caveat, “Unfortunately, we don’t create laws for the good people; we create the laws and bylaws for the people that don’t care… So I would hope… if that’s the direction the council is going — that we come up with a way to regulate and control these STAs — that we never have to use it. In a perfect world, we would never have to use it. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re living in a perfect world.” He pointed out the number of complaint calls that he gets.

Hicks asked if there would be a benefit to asking STA owners to voluntarily submit to inspections.

Clerk Jessica Walters answered that it would need to involve much discussion with the Fire Department regarding the impact on their resources. She also pointed out, “The Fees and Charges Bylaw currently has a fee of $100 for an inspection and report for residential, daycares, group homes, and special care facilities. So that is something that would need to be taken into consideration. Beyond that… I don’t believe there’s any reason we couldn’t at least investigate that and what that could look like.”

After much more consideration of potential questions staff could investigate, it was finally put to a vote, and staff were directed to conduct additional investigations to determine the most appropriate licensing system for Greater Napanee.

With that, Council moved on to the next issue, whether to implement a Municipal Accommodation Tax, which will be covered in an upcoming article.

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