The new land-use bylaw regulating short-term rentals in Halifax comes into effect Friday, a move that’s been long awaited by Bill Stewart.
Stewart is the spokesperson for Neighbours Speak Up, which was started four years ago by community members in the Hyrdrostone neighbourhood who were concerned about an Airbnb in the area causing issues with parties, late nights, conflicts and police visits.
“So, we began to advocate to the provincial government and the municipal government to see if some regulations can be put in place,” he said.
Since then, the province has implemented a short-term rental registry and on Sept. 1, Halifax Regional Municipality is set to usher in new rules setting limitations on how and where short-term rental units can operate within the city.
Under the new regulations, short-term rental units within residential zones will only be allowed to operate in the host’s primary residence — although, for neighbourhoods where hotels or other types of tourist accommodations already exist, commercial short-term rentals will be permitted.
Stewart said requiring the host to also live in the home should help address some of the partying and noise issues his group has seen.
“Primary resident, primary responsibility is an important thing,” he said.
He is also hopeful the move will free up some desperately needed long-term housing stock in residential areas.
“We have to look first at the needs of our residents and then consider where tourism fits in,” he said.
“HRM and the province of Nova Scotia have made major commitments to do something about the housing crisis. This isn’t going to solve it completely, but by implementing the bylaw, doing it effectively, you may free up some housing to address part of that issue.”
There are more than 2,000 short-term rentals in Halifax, many of which will be impacted by the new rules, according to Coun. Waye Mason.
“We are talking, probably, high hundreds – maybe low thousand, 1,500 – units in the areas that are affected, and we need those units right now,” he said.
Mason said many of those rentals are in his district of Halifax South Downtown, which, like the rest of the city, is contending with rock-bottom vacancy rates and people struggling to find long-term housing.
“Aside from the housing crisis issue,” Mason added, “it’s necessary because operating commercial businesses in residential neighbourhoods is something that has to be done very carefully.”
The councillor said they don’t want to see entire neighbourhoods become “sterilized” – where they’re full of people in the summer months who disappear as soon as tourist season ends.
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“It’s important on a lot of levels that we protect those residential neighbourhoods,” he said.
“Obviously, some of the short-term rental owners are disappointed, but I think it was the right policy decision to make.”
One disappointed short-term rental owner is Franziska Broell, who feels like she and other rural short-term rental owners slipped through the cracks.
Broell owns a 400-square-foot cottage in Seaforth, which is still within the municipality but about a 45-minute drive from the downtown core.
“This is really tricky for me because I can’t turn it into a long-term rental. I’ve tried, actually, to get a (long-term) tenant and I’ve had no success because it’s so far from the city and it’s really small, so it’s very hard to fill it,” she said.
“So, I might be left with a building that I can’t do anything with.”
In a statement, municipal spokesperson Klara Needler said staff are “currently working on a report to understand modified provisions for STRs in rural parts of the municipality.”
“Our work will look to understand if there is potential for further flexibility for rural areas for issues such as seasonal cottages, inconsistent zoning, non-permanent structure such as tents and yurts, as well (as) potential associated environmental impacts,” she said.
Broell said the regulations feel “rushed” without the concerns of rural short-term rental owners being taken into account.
“They’re saying that they’re trying to find ways to account for us, but it’s kind of late,” she said.
“I mean, September 1 is just around the corner.… It kind of speaks to the lack of foresight, I think, in implementing this regulation.”
Mason said staff continue to work on the issue and noted that “all good laws have to evolve” as wrinkles get ironed out.
“I’m sure this law is going to evolve over time,” he said.