Nova Scotia moves to regulate short-term rentals in bid to grow sector
Nova Scotia is proposing legislation to regulate the growing short-term accommodations sector, although the rules won’t be in place for at least another year.
Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said Thursday the changes would have to wait to allow time for further consultations with municipalities and the industry.
MacLellan said the goal is to deal with concerns raised by the traditional accommodations industry, including hotels and motels.
“They built the foundation with their risk, their time, their money,” he said.
“To level this playing field and have some level of equity for them was important for us.”
Under changes that will repeal the Tourist Accommodations Act, operators using services such as Airbnb would be required to register through an online system, although the change would not apply to people who rent in their primary residence.
“We’re replacing that old, dated licensing system, heavy red tape, with a simple online registration system,” said MacLellan.
“The fee will be worked out during consultations, but I can tell you it will be less than what operators are now charged for the licence and way faster.”
He said the current range runs from $90 for the smallest licensee to $1,000 for larger operators.
Accompanying amendments to the Assessment Act would also ensure that small-scale operators would pay a residential property tax rate rather than a commercial rate.
The Department of Municipal Affairs would also develop regulations to define small-scale tourist accommodation establishments, including the maximum number of rooms allowed.
The responsibility for charging room levies would remain with municipalities.
MacLellan said the overall goal is to help the province grow the tourism sector to $4 billion in annual revenues by 2024.
The minister said an independent study estimates the province will require between 5,500 and 7,000 additional units to meet that goal. Current estimates place the number of operators in the province at around 2,100.
MacLellan dismissed the idea that the growth of online rentals would cut into the bottom line of the traditional market.
“I think it’s going to do absolutely the opposite and I trust that’s the case,” he said. “If we are going to hit our $4-billion tourism goal, we’re going to need all hands on deck.”
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In an emailed statement Thursday, Alexandra Dagg, public policy director in Canada for Airbnb, said she applauds the government’s move.
“The travel industry is transforming, and we are encouraged to see the government modernize their rules to reflect the way people want to travel,” Dagg said.
“Airbnb tourists can explore more of Nova Scotia than ever before by accessing accommodations outside of traditional tourist areas. They also support local businesses by spending more time, and more money in the neighbourhoods where they stay.”
Meanwhile, the government wasn’t clear about how it could enforce any rules that would be put in place.
Under the changes, fines for non-compliance with licensing requirements would be increased from $500 to $1,000.
“The reality is this is self-governance in many ways,” said MacLellan. “There isn’t a team of tourism police out there.”
© 2019 The Canadian Press