Opinion » Editorial


Who wins in the TA dispute


I think I’ve seen this movie before. Wasn’t nightly rental of private homes one of the hot issues three years ago? In fact, wasn’t there a whole slate of candidates running for municipal council primarily because they were so outraged with the way the TA issue had been handled?

And none of them were elected. Not even close.

To go back a bit further, it was about five years ago that Whistler council tried to get a grip on what was becoming a significant cottage industry, the nightly rental of cottages that were zoned as single-family houses. British tourists, who were used to renting chalets and chalet girls on their ski trips to the Alps, were expecting the same thing in Whistler, we were told, and so Whistler had to meet that demand.

The Brits weren’t the only ones in the market for private home rentals. Tour operators from all over had discovered Whistler, and homeowners – many of whom had been offering their places for rent on an informal, casual basis for years – had discovered a way to pay for their homes.

But not everyone was happy with single-family homes being rented on a nightly or weekly basis. Neighbours complained about the noise and parties that vacationers were having next door, while they tried to get a decent night’s sleep.

The municipality considered licensing properties for rent on a temporary basis but the Municipal Act didn’t allow it. So council considered re-zoning individual houses to allow nightly rentals – and the neighbours’ opposition was overwhelming. After a couple of marathon public hearings on spot zonings council decided the whole process should be scrapped and the existing zoning bylaws enforced.

What the single family zoning bylaw says would eventually have to be interpreted by a judge, but before it got to that point the municipality gave homeowners lots of notice it was going to enforce the bylaw. In fact the municipality gave a year’s grace period.

Following that grace period some homeowners stopped offering their properties for nightly rentals. Others did not, and the first test of what the municipality’s single-family zoning bylaw allows – the Rivera case – went before a judge for interpretation. The hearing was relatively brief, just a day or two, but it took the judge a full year to render a decision. He decided that the municipality’s zoning bylaw was not vague and did not allow for rental of single-family homes for periods of less than 28 days. There was an appeal. That took another year but was finally dismissed earlier this year.

Now lawyers are saying the ruling was specific to the Rivera case, and that other situations are different. One is left with the impression that this may be an attempt to generate another cottage industry. But as Councillor Nick Davies said recently, the Rivera case is the precedent for all other cases where single-family zoned properties are being rented on a nightly basis. It is the law.

Having gone down this path of enforcing its zoning bylaws, no doubt at some legal expense, council is now directing municipal staff to be consistent and root out all who are contravening the bylaw. But in the interest of efficiency the municipality has pursued property management firms that facilitate rentals, rather than individual property owners. The first example was Whistler Platinum, which agreed to comply. The more recent example is AlluraDirect.com, which has not agreed to comply and has had its Whistler business licence suspended. It doesn’t make too much difference since the company is based in Vancouver and its business is carried out over the Internet.

So after more than five years of trying to address the problem of nightly rentals it still exists. Neighbours are still complaining about noisy renters. B&B and pension owners are still complaining about operators who don’t follow the rules. Some owners and property managers are complaining about the municipality persecuting them. The municipality has a legitimate complaint about the glacial pace of the courts.

The only ones benefiting are the lawyers.