A referendum may be on the horizon for the Town of Brome Lake, after 370 residents signed a petition calling on the municipal council to reconsider a proposed bylaw that would allow short- term rental and Airbnb properties throughout the entire territory.
The town currently has specific commercial sectors where residents can rent out their properties to visitors. The revised bylaw, however, would also impact short-term rental landlords, as a new rule states a property has to be larger than 1,500 square metres.
Benoît G. Bourgon, a founding member of the Vigilance Lac- Brome residents group, needed 218 signatures to temporarily block the council’s tabled bylaw and potentially trigger a referendum. The group managed to eclipse the benchmark by over 150 signatures.
“What we’re looking for, essentially, is that the city goes back to the drawing board, meets with the various groups, not only those that oppose like Vigilance Lac-Brome, but those also that want to have more flexibility from the town,” he told The Record in a phone interview.
The group isn’t entirely opposed to Airbnb properties, Bourgon continued. They just want to keep it to the specific sectors, and not open it up to everyone in the territory. It will become a nuisance, he explained, and neighbouring towns have already restricted short-term rentals.
“Magog, for example, completely banned Airbnb on the lake. They only allowed it on the Rue Principale. In Bromont, they have banned all Airbnb everywhere, except for in specific districts where there were already some bed and breakfasts or hotels,” said Bourgon.
The town has already told the group that a referendum would cost close to $80,000. And Bourgon understands if they choose to go in a different direction given how expensive it is to hold a vote on the bylaw. But the town needs to be willing to work together, he said.
The problem, though, is Bourgon already proposed holding a collaborative consultation, and he was shot down by the town council. The unwillingness to work with concerned residents has been frustrating, and that’s what led to the creation of Vigilance Lac-Brome, Bourgon said.
According to Brome Lake Mayor Richard Burcombe, the town council will need to study the situation and weigh the results of the petition before making a final decision on the proposed legislation. The town has roughly 120 days to hold a referendum, he explained on Tuesday.
“We’re going to be in reflection until probably the council meeting in July. We have three options. One, to pull the plug, second, we can decide to have a referendum, and the third one, to modify the bylaw, but I don’t think that’s going to be an alternative,” said Burcombe.
Since he became mayor, Burcombe has only heard of four or five Airbnb properties receiving complaints from residents. And it was just one of them that really turned into a nuisance, he shared with The Record.
If a referendum does happen, it will likely only be in September.
The tabled bylaw will limit certain property owners from running a short- term rental or Airbnb, Burcombe continued, which also ruffled some feathers leading up to the register. However, the mayor believes that there was a lot of confusion among residents signing the petition.
He said people had been misinformed or misguided when they were told to add their signature. There were a lot of people who showed up under the impression that they were about to sign a document that would keep Airbnb properties intact in the town, Burcombe noted.
“Well I mean the group fighting against it, they’re fighting it for their own little sector there. They don’t involve the whole population. A lot of people that I’ve met after the register, over the last three days, they thought they were signing a register because they were for Airbnb,” he said.
Jessica Brown, a real estate broker in the region and an Airbnb owner in Knowlton, told The Record that the new bylaw, whether it passes or not, will have no impact on her short- term rental property because it’s in a commercial zone. And she has never really had any issues.
“We’re very hands-on, we always have been, and we try to be careful about who we rent to. We’re right in the village, I don’t want to have a problem, and we’re really clear about that at the outset […] this is a home away from home, this is not meant to be a hotel room,” said Brown.
If people have a problem with Airbnb or short-term rental properties, in general, it’s because the owners are not vetting the renters properly, she continued. Brown said that in the nine years since she listed her Airbnb, there has only been a couple of questionable tenants.
When she hears people arguing about the housing crisis in Quebec and in the municipality, and how a sweeping Airbnb bylaw might impact the future existence of the town, Brown can only hold her tongue for so long. The housing crisis started 20 years ago, she explained.
“There was a lack of affordable housing in our municipality, as in many municipalities, and I think there were opportunities at that point for the municipality to start getting involved in making sure that there was housing for people, and they didn’t,” said Brown.
The bylaw opposition group should not be actively stopping people from buying short-term rental properties just because the town failed to address its infrastructure problem for decades, even though everyone knew a housing crisis was just around the corner, she continued.
And limiting Airbnb to a certain square footage isn’t the solution, either, Brown said, adding it doesn’t make much sense. If it does go to a referendum, she wonders how the town will frame the question on the ballot. She also noted that the town doesn’t have many hotel options.
“I don’t actually really love the fact that they’re going to now curtail those people who bought a secondary home and are financing it through short-term rentals, and blaming them for it. I think that short-term rentals are a good thing for tourism,” Brown told The Record.