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Cumberland explores short-term rental effect on housing for residents

Council also wants to look at collecting hotel tax revenue from commercial rentals
An Airbnb map shows several properties for rent in Cumberland. Screenshot,

Cumberland has a dilemma: like many communities, its rental supply for residents is potentially affected by short-term vacation rentals, yet it lacks a hotel.

The village attracts many visitors, especially to ride and hike its trail systems. A search of shows through the summer locations listed at various times for prices in the $50-60 a night at the low end up to a high of $559.

Council wants to get a better handle on what role the vacation rental market can and should play, and it asked staff to research the issue.

“This has been a long-awaited report,” Mayor Leslie Baird said.

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Senior planner Karin Albert told council they did a one-day, point-in-time count and also had a contractor scan listings from early 2016 through to the fall of 2019. She differentiated between the traditional, occasional rental of some properties and the growing trend toward short-term, commercial rentals, such as through online sites such as Airbnb. Through the review, staff identified 38 units rented commercially, with more as time went on, especially for the commercial market.

“The overall trend is that vacation rental has gone up,” she said. “That is a concern for sure…. Rental housing is really tight in the Comox Valley.”

The village now wants to engage the community in a discussion about the positive and negative effects of this vacation rental market. Staff said the plan is to start the process in the late summer with an aim of drafting a bylaw for early 2022.

Some on council suggested setting limits on the number of short-term rental units, while others suggested setting these at the neighbourhood level rather than the community as a whole.

The report provides information on the number of households and the percentage of renters. It references previous staff research on rentals and housing, and lists plans for community engagement such as online and paper surveys, workshops and other communications.

Coun. Jesse Ketler said the report provides many good suggestions, adding the village should consider looking at how it can benefit from Airbnb’s collection of the hotel tax. The report notes that not everyone offering short-term rentals gets a business licence.

At the end of the discussion, council passed a motion to endorse the engagement plan, approve up to $10,000 from reserves to cover costs of the rental review project, amend the financial plans to reflect the expense and investigate how to access the hotel tax revenue.

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