Short-term rental market under scrutiny Dozens of Whistler residents with good jobs are frantically searching for new places to live today as landlords give them the boot at the end of November in order to rent out suites on a nightly or weekly basis through the ski season. Although renting on a nightly or weekly basis is illegal in areas zoned residential, the potential to rent for hundreds of dollars a night or thousands of dollars a week is too much for some landlords to pass up. The result is a new crop of homeless locals tossed out on the street in one of the tightest rental markets around. Mayor Ted Nebbeling says the bylaw department is in the process of researching neighbourhoods where the highest instance of nightly or weekly rentals occur. Much of the research is done by checking accommodation ads in the Vancouver Sun and Whistler Question, says Nebbeling, adding the newspapers may be contributing to the problem by accepting ads from illegal rentals. "They (newspapers) are almost forced to take the ads because of competition," he says. "It’s not a violation of the bylaw to advertise a suite for rent, but it is wrong for a landlord to collect money for renting that suite and that is how we have to approach it." "When we know through ads that suites in single family, residential areas are being rented out by the night we will be making visits to these homeowners and telling them to stop," says Nebbeling. The only places where short-term rentals (less than one month) are allowed are the Blackcomb Benchlands, Blueberry Hill, Whiskey Jack, the village and pockets in Whistler Creek. Claire Macdonald, publisher of the Whistler Question, says they tried to screen advertisers wanting to publicize nightly or weekly rentals, but it turned into a "paperwork nightmare." The Question is asking the bylaw department to monitor the ads and inform them of any place advertising illegal suites. Those ads are then pulled and the advertisers money is refunded, she says. "When we tried to check to see if the suites were legal ourselves we had people swearing in the office and others in tears," Macdonald says. "Some people don’t know what they are doing is wrong and others are just trying to make a quick buck… we certainly don’t want to promote the situation." While Nebbeling says the bylaw department is in the process of stepping up the fight against illegal rentals, the bylaw doesn’t have a lot of punitive teeth and the municipality’s main tool in the battle is a "cease and desist" order. "If the homeowner refuses to comply with the order we can go to court and ask the courts to impose a fine," he says. "If we have to start fining people to make them realize we are serious then that is what we will do." The illegal rental, he says, cuts into the rental pool available for local employees and contributes to Whistler’s critical housing shortage. Most of the investigations come from either the newspaper research or from complaints from neighbours upset about increased traffic, loud parties and parking problems created by nightly or weekly rentals. Nebbeling says the bylaw department is doing everything it can to slow down the illicit suite trade. "We can’t knock on doors and ask people ‘Who is in your suite?’," Nebbeling says. "This is not a police state." This reactive, not proactive, approach may be adding to the problem say a number of local property managers who make a living legitimately renting suites on a nightly or weekly basis in condominiums zoned for short-term rental. "This seems to be one of the bylaws that they enforce in the breach, but if some visitor in Whistler gets kicked out of the place they feel they rented legitimately it gives the resort a black eye," says Craig MacKenzie of Whistler Resort Management. Councillor Bill Murray, a property manager with Whistler Chalets, says he has to declare a conflict and excuse himself from council every time the rental situation is discussed. But Murray says he feels the situation might be rectified by making it legal for homeowners to rent suites out on a short-term basis if they apply for a licence. This would allow the municipality the ability to control the amount of short-term rentals through the issuing of permits. Murray says the problem is hard for the bylaw department to pin down, so a new method of dealing with illegal rentals has to be sought. "I don’t like unenforced laws," Murray says. "Let's not have bylaws that are grey because it becomes somewhat political as to when they are enforced." One local property manager, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the crackdown may just be a knee-jerk response to the employee housing shortage. Professional property managers, he says, are filling a void in the local rental market by tapping into a niche market for exclusive single family homes available on a short-term basis. "Hitting the professional property managers that are providing these exclusive homes and taking these out of the rental pool is not going to free up one pillow for the employee housing shortage," the property manager says. "These homes would be going for over $3,000 a month and the owners do not want to have 15 people in them."