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Cumberland gathers ideas for short-term rental policy

Village has been holding workshops, online survey to take input
An Airbnb map from 2021 shows several properties for rent in Cumberland. Screenshot,

Like many communities, Cumberland needs more rental housing.

However, with little in the way of tourist accommodations, people have been looking to their properties to provide short-term rental options through sites like Airbnb.

The village now wants to get a handle on how it can promote more long-term rentals while, at the same time, creating some consistency around regulations for people wanting to rent out their homes to visitors.

It is in the midst of a survey of residents about a policy, which as of the beginning of February had just over 600 respondents. The online survey is on the Village of Cumberland website and closes on Feb. 7.

RELATED STORY: Cumberland explores the short-term rental effect on housing for residents

Village planning staff also hosted online forums on Feb. 2 and 3 to get input. During the first session, senior planner Karin Albert outlined the situation and how it has changed in recent years. She also provided a few case studies of what other communities have done.

In January 2016, there was a single property listed for short-term rental in the community. By October 2019, this had grown to 73. Of these, just over half were full houses available year-round.

“This is really the number we’re concerned about,” she said.

The rest were split between houses available occasionally and rooms available.

The concern is around the effect this has on rentals for residents, especially those with lower incomes. The vacancy rate as of October was about 1.1 per cent, whereas Albert said a healthy rate is considered just over three per cent.

Another challenge though is that many people visit Cumberland, yet little is available in terms of traditional accommodation. The Waverley Hotel still can rent rooms. There is also the Riding Fool Hostel and the campground at Cumberland Lake Park. In total, the capacity is for 224, of which 190 come from the campground.

“We have little tourism accommodation in Cumberland,” Albert said.

Other communities are facing the same situation, so staff provided a look at what Tofino, Powell River and Squamish are doing in terms of regulatory options such as zoning, caps, parking restrictions, business licence requirements or on-site caretaker provisions. Squamish, for example, had brought in fairly restrictive requirements. However, the Sea to Sky community’s vacancy rate increased from 0.3 per cent in 2019 to 1.4 per cent the following year.

During the discussion, the participants, several with rental units, broke into groups. They raised questions such as what happens to businesses outside an approved area if zoning is used to set aside only certain areas. Some felt the current zoning restrictions were fine, and many liked the idea of rural locations being permitted. Another idea that was received positively was a provision to have a caretaker on a property, though not necessarily the homeowner, to help prevent properties from becoming ‘party’ houses. One comment was that if too many vacation rentals go on the market, the rates could fall and ultimately make long-term rentals more attractive to owners.

Staff’s plan is to report to council by April or May, with a draft bylaw to follow shortly after. Council could potentially adopt it by the summer.

“It may be wrapped up as soon as July,” Albert said.

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