The growth of short-term rental housing has created a long-term headache for many Brome-Missisquoi municipalities at a time of unprecedented pressure on local housing markets. While councillors in Brome Lake debate proposed bylaws laying down ground rules for the sector (see the previous edition of the BCN), Sutton mayor Robert Benoit plans to set up a working group to develop a similar bylaw.
“Municipalities around the province have been [regulating] short-term rentals for the last two or three years, and I think we’re one of the last that hasn’t done anything,” Benoit said. “The fundamental question for me, and for other mayors in the MRC and in the province, is how to create affordable housing. People who earn minimum wage are spending half of their income on rent; there’s a housing shortage and a wave of people who want to move to the region – all of that together creates a major problem for housing availability…which is not simple to solve. Even people who make relatively good money and work in Sutton can’t afford housing in town. There is speculation and inflation. Now, on top of that, you have the short-term rental situation.”
He said people who used to rent out their cabins or second homes by the month now have a financial incentive to rent them on AirBnB to short-term visitors who “have a tendency to party.”
This, according to Benoit, has led to an uptick in noise complaints and residents contacting City Hall to say, “You’ve got to do something.”
“During the campaign, when I was going door to door, that was probably the issue that came up the most often,” he added.
Benoit said the municipality “doesn’t presently have the tools” to take action against careless AirBnB landlords or to restrict the practice to certain areas of the town. In 2013, the town intended to create a committee to monitor the issue, but for reasons that aren’t clear, the monitoring never happened.
The mayor emphasized that the town did not intend to ban short-term rentals entirely – Mont Sutton, the town’s largest employer, relies on skiers using short-term rentals for ski weekends – but would consider putting conditions on rentals and perhaps making the practice legal only in certain areas. “It takes a bylaw…adapted to the specifics of our territory… to clearly lay out the conditions we’re placing on short-term rentals,” he said. He planned to draw on the experiences of towns around the region and the ideas proposed by concerned citizens.
Benoit said a working group made up of town councillors would lead public consultations over the next few months, and a bylaw would be drawn up “probably in the fall.” An initial public hearing on the issue was held in December, and Benoit planned to “call out to everyone” at the March 2 council meeting to make their voices heard. He also plans to set up a consultative committee made up of councillors and interested citizens.
Benoit encouraged citizens to participate in upcoming public consultations around the town’s wider urban plan in order to make their voices heard.