When David Blake and his partner, Susan Sadler, learned that their short-term rental unit was out of compliance with Pemberton's municipal bylaws, they did something that most people don't — they registered it as a bed and breakfast.
In November 2016, they paid the administrative fees and had a fire inspector tour the unit, ensuring they had a sound evacuation plan and working alarms. "It wasn't very onerous at all," explained Blake. "We just went into the municipal office and they gave us the forms we needed to fill out."
Everything was good — the couple happy to have their operation "above board."
That was until their water and sewage bill turned up this July, and they realized that they were now being charged at a business rate rather than a residential rate. Their bill had skyrocketed — by $1,500 a year. "Our occupancy is less than if we had a full-time renter in our suite, so there's less wear and tear on the infrastructure than if I had a full-time tenant," explained Blake.
Short-term rentals have become big business in Pemberton: a recent search on Airbnb's website revealed 100 in the Pemberton area. Yet only seven units are currently registered as bed and breakfast with the municipality, something that is required by law. For Blake, it seems unfair, as when he looks around at his competition, he knows that most of them are are not registered.
Blake wants action on the file, saying it's time for the municipality to "level the playing field."
"I think everyone should be above board with regards to safety," he said. "It should be a little more equitable."
Last summer, the Village of Pemberton began the process of rejigging its approach to regulating short-term rentals — a challenging task for a small municipality with limited staff. The Village hired the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, which carried out public outreach. After considering community feedback and various options, council decided on a number of regulatory guidelines.
Under the new rules, the municipality will limit the number of short-term rentals, require them to have adequate parking, and pay the business rate for utilities. A new category will be created for short-term renters that doesn't require them to serve breakfast.
The bylaws, however, won't take effect until July, becasue the changes are being made as part of a broader redesign and update to the community's bylaws. According to Pemberton's mayor, Mike Richman, it makes sense to do the update in one swoop. "Instead of piece meal it, which would have made the process that much longer, we decided to put it into one package. It has taken a little while, but we've done a lot of public engagement and now it's being processed," he said.
The public will have an opportunity to further comment on the new bylaws in April.
Absent from council's recommendations is any direction as to how the Village will compel compliance from operators who refuse to comply. The Village, explained Richman, is sticking to the "complaint-based system" in place, in which operators are asked to obtain a business license if someone brings their business to the attention of the municipality.
The Village does not currently have any means to fine those who don't comply, but Richman said it is looking at ways to levy them. One method may be to apply fines directly to people's property taxes, he said. "We want to look at methods like that. But there's a lot of regulation around it...We want to be able to have enough teeth to be able to give out a fine and ensure it gets paid."
As for Blake's increase in fees, Richman said that council will take a look at his bill. "We want to make sure it's fair that people are paying what they should for what they're using. If there's a problem with his, we'll look at it. It doesn't mean a little tweaking can't happen," he said.