Halifax approves new short-term rental regulations from September
Halifax has approved regulations for short-term rentals like Airbnbs, but is giving residents until September 1 to adapt.
Dozens of people spoke at a packed public hearing before Halifax Regional Council on Tuesday night about proposed changes to the rules for short-term rentals of 28 days or less.
Owners must live in their rental property if they are in a residential area, according to a staff report. Those in mixed-use or commercial zoning anywhere in Halifax don’t carry this requirement, but all must register with the municipality.
“There will be winners and losers,” Coun said. Shawn Clear.
Although the council voted in December to postpone a decision until April, it later reversed that order and agreed to hold a public hearing and vote on the changes.
Supporters of the regulation said they wanted to know who to contact with noise and litter complaints and that a revolving door of visitors has undermined a sense of community.
Dartmouth’s Brendan Smith said he was the only long-term tenant in his three-unit building, while the others have been converted to short-term deals.
“These issues are affecting my neighbors as well, as our area feels less like a community and more like a hotel development,” Smith said.
Smith said he feels his housing situation is “precarious” as he fears his landlord might find a reason to convert his unit into an Airbnb as well.
Many, like Smith, said they hoped the homes could return to long-term leases amid the province’s housing crisis.
Councilors have said they hope the changes will reduce so-called ghost hotels in residential areas where owners living elsewhere are buying up apartments, evicting tenants and converting the building to short-term rentals only.
Staffers said Tuesday the vast majority of the roughly 2,000 listings in the Halifax area — about 1,350 — are in residential areas and must follow the new home ownership rule.
But staff said they didn’t know how many of those would be rented or sold long-term. Halifax’s new regulations are more permissive than other cities in Canada as they do not limit the number of nights or bedrooms that can be rented.
Michael Kabalen, chief executive of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, said the impact of the rules was “mixed”.
Though he said the changes may make more housing available, it won’t help those on lower incomes.
“The real solutions have to be purpose-built, affordable housing, either by the government or by agencies like ours,” Cabal said.
Joline Dorey, from Dartmouth, was one of many owners to tell the council they would not be converting their spaces into long-term rentals, and felt the regulations will have “a drastic impact on my family, to no one’s benefit”.
Dorey, a single mother of two, said the new rules would likely mean she would sell her rental home to make ends meet with her home, where she also has a rental suite.
“[Short-term rental] Owners are not big companies. We are Nova Scotians working hard and using our wealth to supplement our income to get through these trying times,” Dorey said.
Real estate executives like Tiffany Westwood talked about how the new rules would result in only wealthy people running short-term listings. Westwood said she runs her own small management company that manages 11 units and the new rules would likely close nine.
“To completely destroy my business and ruin my livability,” she said.
Avery Birch of the 365 Experience rental company said they have about 100 rentals in Halifax and rural areas like Lunenburg and employ about 50 people.
He suggested the city introduce a new tax collection that would ensure that all funds would go towards building affordable housing.
“Maybe we can be part of the solution so that it becomes an ecosystem where we feed the solution we’re looking for,” Birch said.
Marketing tax for tourism only
Although recent provincial changes to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s charter allow it to increase the marketing levy from two percent on tourist accommodation to three percent and include short-term rentals, officials said money can only be used for tourism. Currently, 60 percent of these funds go to Discover Halifax and the remainder to the city’s Special Events Reserve.
Other Airbnb owners and property managers spoke about how they provide an important service as temporary housing for people moving to Nova Scotia from other provinces, Ukrainian refugees, or handymen and paramedics in town for short visits.
“We’ve had many reports from neighbors who feel unsafe when strangers in their community are often people who don’t look like them,” said Sid Kosatsky of property management company Host Oft.
A Discover Halifax study presented to City Council on Tuesday estimated the changes could halve the short-term rental stock as 75,000 fewer rooms become available annually. The most likely scenario estimated the loss of economic activity at $49 million.
count. Halifax South Downtown’s Waye Mason said while he empathizes with people facing the loss of their livelihoods, the changes have been in the works for years. The council directed staff in September 2020 to consider specific bylaw amendments.
“This shouldn’t be new to anyone,” Mason said.
Mason also said, with a vacancy rate of 0.7 in his district, if the changes freed up even 100 or 200 units, “it would be a big deal for my residents and the pressures they’re facing.”
The council eventually passed the regulations, with council members Becky Kent, Trish Purdy and Shawn Cleary voting no.
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