Coun. Steve Roddick speaks during a council meeting in Whitehorse on June 17. Roddick campaigned on a platform of short-term rental regulations and says that they could be critical to solving the city’s housing crisis. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse eyes short-term rental regulations

A public survey is open until July 28

The City of Whitehorse released a survey that asks residents about how they think short-term rental accommodations should be regulated in the future.

Short-term rental accommodations are rental units leased out for less than one month, usually through online services such as Airbnb. According to the survey, there are over 150 short-term rental units in Whitehorse.

The city is planning to regulate them to address their impact on the rental market, but officials don’t know what those regulations are going to be yet.

“Short-term rentals impact the long-term rental market because they’re not available for that,” said Whitehorse city planner Kinden Kosick. “So we want to get some information on how many people are using them and how many people are out there and sort of what the appetite for them is in what type of units.”

Kosick said that Whitehorse is studying what regulations other municipalities have placed on short-term rentals, but added that whatever regulations they develop will be created specifically to suit Whitehorse’s housing and rental market.

“We know that Airbnb’s are a good mortgage helper and help with affordability for homeowners, and we know that tourism has had a big increase in the past couple of years,” he said. “So it’s going to be something that is tailored to those things as well.”

One survey question asks respondents which types of dwellings short-term rental units should be allowed in. Bedrooms in primary residences, secondary suites on one’s primary property, income-based secondary properties and primary residences temporarily unoccupied by their owners are listed as possible choices for this question.

Another question weighs the idea of requiring short-term residential unit hosts to go through regulatory hoops such as requiring business licenses and receiving regular safety inspections.

Respondents are also asked if they would like to see additional taxes on short-term rental accommodations and fees for short-term rental unit hosts who don’t follow regulations.

Outside of policy ideas, the survey asks respondents for their thoughts on how short-term residential units have affected the rental market and economy, respectively. There are also a set of questions for hosts that asks about the type of accommodations they offer and how they’re used.

“I just see effective regulations for short-term rentals as a critical part of our response to our housing crisis,” said Whitehorse City Councillor Steve Roddick, who has previously expressed interest in regulating the industry.

On one hand, Roddick supports people renting out spare rooms within their house on the short-term rental market. However, he’s concerned about people renting out secondary properties to short-term renters rather than long-term tenants.

“More and more people are using their housing for short-term rentals that serves visitors and tourists instead of long-term rentals to residents, just because you can make more money doing that,” he said.

“If you have a spare bedroom or if you want to rent out your place while you’re on vacation, that’s fantastic. That helps people make extra income, that contributes to economic development, that contributes to tourism. I think it’s great. The problem is where you have people who have living spaces that could otherwise be rented to long-term tenants.”

Like Kosick, Roddick specified that whatever potential regulations the city might place on short-term rental accommodations should be cultivated to fit Whitehorse’s specific housing market. Aspects he believes need to be taken into account include the importance of tourism to Whitehorse’s economy, the on-off presence of miners looking for short-term accommodations and the low amount of hotels in the city (although he noted more hotels are currently being built).

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce chair Mike Pemberton also noted the city’s lack of hotels — however, he sees short-term rental units as a way to fill that gap and provide a range of options for people seeking short-term living accommodations. He also hasn’t heard any complaints from Whitehorse hotels about them either.

“If it was an issue that was floating, then we would be all over it at the chamber for sure,” he said. “But it’s not.”

Pemberton said he supports some regulations on short-term rental units such as regular unit inspections and requiring hosts to get a business license. However, he cautioned the city against creating overly restrictive regulations.

“Have regulation, but don’t make it difficult for people to do,” he said. “Don’t create too much red tape.”

He also dismissed Roddick’s concerns on secondary homes listed for short-term rental possibly affecting the Whitehorse rental market.

“Isn’t that a rental? If I own the home, shouldn’t it be my decision on what I want to do with it? They can’t take away what someone wants to do with their property. That makes no sense to me.”

The survey is open until July 28. It is available on the city’s website under “public consultations.”

Contact Johua Azizi at joshua.azizi@yukon-news.com

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