Town of Canmore says it followed procedure in ticketing homeowner for vacation rental listing

Short term rentals of unlicensed vacation homes through websites like AirBNB and VRBO are against the law in Canmore, Alberta.
Short term rentals of unlicensed vacation homes through websites like AirBNB and VRBO are against the law in Canmore, Alberta. John Himpe / Global News

Housing is a scarce resource in the resort town of Canmore. As a result, the community has taken a very clear stance on the use of potentially lucrative short-term rental websites like Airbnb and VRBO.

If a property is listed on a site but is not in the town’s registry of licensed vacation homes, the listing is researched to determine its whereabouts and the homeowner is sent an order to remove the listing, along with a ticket for a $2,500 fine.

But one Canmore man claims despite having not rented out his home for “many years,” his property ended up on such a site without his knowledge and ended up under the gaze of bylaw enforcement.

“This action feels heavy-handed on the part of the Town of Canmore,” Gareth Thomson told town council on Tuesday night.

Thomson received a stop order and ticket in November 2017 from the town. He said he contacted the website to have the listing removed less than 24 hours after he received the stop order and appealed his fine to Canmore’s Subdivision and Development Appeal Board (SDAB).

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“The SDAB took the position their hands were tied on this issue, said no to my appeal, and then actually wrote a letter about this issue to you,” Thomson said in his comments.

“This appeal may have been avoided had there been direct contact with the owners. Issuing the stop order and violation ticket at the same time does not provide an opportunity for compliance.”

READ MORE: Enforcing short-term rental bans is time-consuming for Alberta resort communities

But Canmore’s general manager for municipal infrastructure told Global News the town’s administration believes there is no issue with how violations of the short-term rental bylaw are being pursued.

“We have currently over 900 listings for properties in Canmore on sites like Airbnb and VRBO,” Michael Fark said Tuesday night. “The staff resources that would be required to investigate each and every one, we simply don’t have.

“We have worked with our legal counsel to develop a process we feel is fair and appropriate.”

Fark said the town does do its due diligence to determine that listings are currently active for properties that are not in compliance, and the town has no plans to change how it’s handing out stop orders and fines at the same time.

“In order to ensure compliance, the important component is that the risk of a fine has to be real,” Fark said.

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Fark said in every matter the town has encountered, nobody has disputed the fact that there was online advertising of their property, including in Thomson’s case.

“Where he disputed was the timeline in which the advertisement was placed and how recently he engaged in that activity.”

Thomson would still like to see what he calls a more compassionate approach to enforcement of the bylaw.

“Where’s the harm in an administration official of the Town of Canmore emailing you or giving you a phone call and saying, ‘Hey, are you aware your place is listed? Are you aware you’re in contravention of the bylaw? Are you currently renting your home, because you should stop.'”

“We have a process in place that is meant to treat all property owners equitably,” Fark said. “Similarly, there are many property owners who feel the town hasn’t done enough to prevent this kind of property use from occurring.”

“It is difficult to find a balance, and certainly those who find themselves on the wrong end of it may disagree with the process or the outcome.”