Council Gets Public Input on STRAs

At a public meeting on Monday, October 30, Cobourg Council once again presented their proposed rezoning and licensing by-law to legalize Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA).  Currently, Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts (B & Bs) are legal but STRAs are not although the Town is doing nothing about these illegal establishments.  They are illegal because they are not permitted by zoning anywhere in Cobourg so the Town plans to remedy this by rezoning.  In addition, a By-law will require STRAs to be licensed and several STRA owners made it clear that the requirements of the proposed regulation could well make them no longer viable.  Director Brent Larmer presented a summary of the proposed requirements and highlights of these are provided below.

Most of the presenters were STRA owners (I counted 12) – some with just one unit but others were investors with many units.  None were happy with the proposed changes.  There were four others who favoured at least regulating STRAs – including Brad Wilcox, owner of Cobourg’s Best Western Hotel.  Brad accepted STRs as originally conceived but said that when a single owner has multiple units, it becomes a commercial operation and should be subject to the same rules and taxes as a hotel.

Proposed Re-zoning and Licensing of STRAs – highlights

  1. Maximum 3 bedrooms per unit with a maximum of 2 occupants per room.
  2. STRAs would be treated the same as a B & B
  3. Accessory Dwelling units not permitted as STRAs – that would exclude add-ons on the same property.
  4. STRAs may only operate for up to 180 days per year.  As was pointed out by presenters, this would make some units not viable. [Maybe they could convert to long term rental units?]
  5. If the unit is a Condo, a licence will only be granted if the Condo rule permits this (Licensing bylaw para 6.1.f).i.
  6. Contact info must be provided: 24/7 with a one hour response time.
  7. The zoning by-law says that STRAs “shall only be permitted on a lot where the landowner occupies one (1) of the dwelling units and meets the criteria of a Principal Dwelling Residence.”
  8. Staff are still investigating cases where owners do not reside at the property – these are not yet covered in the drafts.

Condos

Grant Hayes, who is president of the two major Condo management companies in Cobourg and manages 2200 units, said that people buying Condos did not want to be part of what would essentially be a hotel.  Council and staff did not respond and a comment from an audience person summed it up – “enforcing Condo rules is not the Town’s responsibility”.  However, see item 5 above.

Enforcement

  • As is the case with other by-laws, enforcement would be re-active and not pro-active.  That is, nothing will happen unless there is a complaint.
  • When involved, by-law officers will check that the STRA is “complying with the terms and conditions of the licence”.
  • That the “STR and renters are complying with other Town by-laws (e.g. noise, property standards, parking etc. ).”
  • Violations would be subject to fines of $500 per day up to $100,000.
  • By-law enforcement by By-Law officers is not available on weekends when most infractions occur.

Tourism and other factors

  • Several presenters said that Tourism is important to Cobourg and they typically spend more than $100 per day on top of their STRA fee.
  • A few presenters mentioned that they belonged to a group called “Responsible Hosting Cobourg” and were adamant that few STRA owners had any problems.   Council and Staff were asked “what problem is being addressed?”
  • They also pointed to the fact that STRAs were less than 1% of households so had little impact on the housing problem.  There was also disagreement on exactly how many STRAs there are in Cobourg – one count was as few as 58.
  • Two presenters pointed to the need for different rules for large Heritage Homes which have more than 3 bedrooms and could even be a Tourist attraction.
  • Some presenters said that they operated only one unit and it provided necessary income.

Mayor Lucas Cleveland said that the purpose of the meeting was to get public input and generate public engagement and this has been achieved.  No decisions would be made at the meeting.

Director Brent Larmer said that a balance is needed between the pros and cons and these included considering Tourism and housing supply.  He said there was no standardized approach although staff were looking at what other municipalities had done.

It was not announced what the next steps will be although presumably staff will modify the Zoning and Licensing by-laws and present them for approval at a future Council meeting.

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Mrs. Anonymous
6 months ago

The federal government has entered the chat. Apparently looking at what they can do to potentially limit STR via tax provisions at the CRA.

About eight years too late, but better late than never.

Sandpiper
6 months ago

Regulations , Licencing and Enforcement is one thing ReZoning will be the DOWNFALL
we the Resident Homeowners loose control to a Town Council that does nothing and allows the present laws to be broken ……
What makes you think that Enforcement will be better than it is now .?????

Cobourg taxpayer
6 months ago

There is a demand in Cobourg for STRs if 58-200 are operating. Where is this demand coming from? Are the motels/hotels empty as many stay in STR? It sounds like many STRs are being run as a business and should be regulated as is every other business. There is a huge difference between someone renting a room in their house while they are present as compared to houses with multiple units being rented out and no one permanently living there. One interesting regulation is a small sign on the front of the house stating Short Term Rental or Vacation Rental so it is clear to all where this is occurring. Wouldn’t it be wonderful though if town council and staff were able to come up with a clear bylaw that was enforceable. One can only hope.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Cobourg taxpayer
6 months ago

Approve the New Holiday INN
then all these STR operators that need additional Income can get jobs full time with Benefits with their experience . Then there would be another 80 Plus suites available all the time
plus Commercial Tax Rates far more than STRs might pay if they ever disclose the income .

NAI
6 months ago

STRs are more often used for human trafficking and prostitution, primarily because they are not closely supervised. Bringing them here will only increase those occurrences.

H Beaumont
Reply to  NAI
6 months ago

The STR owners I know are extremely careful about vetting guests through the strong responsible hosting tools available on platforms. The STR owners I know supervise their units extremely carefully, and do not allow guests without previous positive reviews.

The very personal nature of the vetting and hosting process would make trafficking in neighbour hoods next to impossible as we thankfully have so many watchful eyes.

Sandpiper
Reply to  H Beaumont
6 months ago

Not when you just looking to Make your Mortgage payment
or pay your bills as many presenters stated as the reason for their
existence anything goes lets not kid our selves allow our selves to be fooled

The Tourist season in Cobourg is to short 3 months of Beach weather at the most.
No more and Nothing more . So lets all get past the Tourism saviour !
Cobourg Downtown Thrived once upon a time
we had 4 Main st King Bars the Plaza , Park, British Kelleys & the Chateau with an assortment of Live entertainment Rock on down to Country every night of the week
plus a pool hall etc etc yes they were rough and tumble But that’s what kept the down town a float and busy Baseball / Fast ball was in Victoria park right behind the Chateau
and hockey was a lot closer to the downtown and the Bars than it is now
But thats all history now .

H Beaumont
Reply to  Sandpiper
6 months ago

Everyone has the option to choose to run their business ethically or not ethically, and being motivated to do well does not equal poor ethical choices: I do not find the “anything goes” mandate applies here. What I see are great kind honest people hosting great kind honest people – it is still a thing. 🙂

You have made a really great point and I thank you for bringing it up – the awesome thing about STR is that it attracts visitors all year round – supporting businesses like the ones you are describing – more STR responsibly hosted visitors means more customers to all our favourite shops and restaurants which results in more of our favourite places to enjoy.

I have never seen Cobourg looking so vibrant. It’s exciting!

NAI
Reply to  H Beaumont
6 months ago

Sadly, I have seen the evolution of STR where you have a number of rentable units run by a cooperation of individuals seeking profit, and invariably the careful vetting process gets cast aside. I hate generalizing and agree there are ethical owners out there, but there are those who are not in it for the greater good and seek only renumeration.

Rob
Reply to  NAI
6 months ago

Would suggest there is almost no truth to this…sounds like a fear narrative.

Sandpiper
6 months ago

The other Items that seemed to be left out here were the reasons that justify running an illegal establishment Their people don’t like hotels Most if not all of the operators making their presentation used the POOR ME
approach Can’t afford the house , Pay my mortgage , Mother in a retirement home , divorce
reno costs etc etc what other illegal items might be overlooked .
The Best Western brought up the fact that they & staff are mandated to take update courses
have a watchful eye for illegal activity of all sorts up to and including Human Trafficking
and prostitution etc etc

The Director of Planning also indicated that in their licencing provisions would be Distance provisions between unit of STRs of 200 meters most communities went to 300 meters
to avoid clustering and party blocks . All subject to Enforcement of Course ???

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Sandpiper
6 months ago

The Director of Planning also indicated that in their licencing provisions would be Distance provisions between unit of STRs of 200 meters most communities went to 300 meters

How would that work? If one has a sorta neighbour (perhaps across the street and 150 meters away) with a STR license then you cannot have an STR? How will a first-come gets the worm principle help the “I can’t afford the rent person” who seems to be an important reason for allowing any STRs in Cobourg? Is that fair?

Sandpiper
Reply to  Ken Strauss
6 months ago

They are all to be Licenced to be Legal Ha!
the Intent that works in all other Communities is if you qualify in all aspects
Fire health Safety then the Next applicant that applies within 300 Mtrs will Not be approved or licenced They also for got to mention that NO more than a certain number of total units will be licenced in Town it was suggested 120 total units in prior meetings as thats all they can supervise and ByLaw Enforce —but if they count at the beginning of Tourist season ie: June there were 148 STRs available in the the Town once booked they are taken down.
So it may appear as 70 or 100 in a given time fame but there are more over all .

cornbread
6 months ago

I live on a residential street in Cobourg…How is this “rezoning” being developed? Is it by type of street etc. or is every street in Cobourg open to STR’s and B & B’s. Certainly the highly taxed people on Lakeshore Rd in the east end don’t want their street turned into a short term rental mess, nor do the condo owners want their building turned into a quasi hotel.

It’s about time the Council & Town Staff get their stuff together on this zoning issue.

Tourism is starting to be the Tail that is wagging the Dog in this town…Don’t let it happen!

Bill Thompson
Reply to  cornbread
6 months ago

“Tourism is starting to be the tail that is wagging the dog in this town don’t let it happen”

Emphasis on “Tourism” vice industry providing employment for locals has been the priority by the town council since around 2007 & earlier time frame.
It appears the term has been re-defined as requiring few historical buildings ,history etc.but “Visitors” to open free beaches ,overcrowded parking /littering on streets etc.with accompanying town costs resulting and now with the arrival increasing homeless /addicts.
Strangely no mention of a positive financial impact on the town business.establishments….hotels, restaurants etc.
Perhaps the town could request input/ comments from the proprietors for public dissemination to the resident taxpayers of the town.

Sandpiper
6 months ago

So I guess the Town condones Illegal activity Clearly stated several times by Council that STRs
were just that So lets Legalize them to legitimize Councils and Bylaw enforcements misgivings
and Laziness . STR owners are as someone Mentioned Black Market Hotels Unrecorded Incomes , Payrolls under the table for staff no long term employment and benefits as provided through legit Hotel Chains the list goes on of what this Town will Condone
This Zoning of STRs will now allow for less enforcement in all neighbourhoods
as they will now simply and legally say there is nothing they can do as its permitted under the zoning Regs
Just like they are doing Now. No Enforcement plan and Policing on after hours was even mentioned Yes Other communities use the Police when By Law is closed and a hefty dispatch fee is also charged to the operator of the STR on top of the Fine . So Why all the time and money being spent on a illegal act that justs needs enforcement to end all of this . There was no mention of all the STRs that are owned and operated by Non residents of Cobourg either
and there is knowledge of it just never mentioned .
Council needs to under stand that the Feel good Town is now affecting our Homes , Lifestyle , Peaceful enjoyment , sense of Security the list goes on
These are our Homes Not Someone’s or the Towns Profit Centers

Carol
6 months ago

Air B&B VRBOs are here to stay. However as B&B s are in a property where the owner is present they are quite different. There is a by law in place governing the BB but nothing to cover the STR. Unfortunately these have become a big business for a lot of people and unless there are some rules set down the owners can do as they wish. I get that the owners do not want to be regulated but as a tax payer in this community I want some protection. We are seeing that many of these properties are owned by one owner and as was stated this is a business and should be regulated as such. if someone can have their own home and can afford to buy an additional property to be rented out as a STR for income that is a second job. If I work a second job I pay taxes etc. as I said I think they are here to stay but as all the other communities around us have done they should be registered and licensed and have to comply with the by law. If there are infractions the licence should not be renewed.

Pete M
6 months ago

58-200 STRA in cobourg. Obviously there is a demand. The question is- how many are being rented on a monthly basis and how many are rented for periods of 3 months or more by the renter. Those are the ones that need to be address. There is where the Province can step in and say if you rent your property out to renter for 3 months or more you have entered a landlord/ tenant relationship with all the challenges of eviction that comes with that.
Watch and see how quickly some people sell their STRA.

Also if the demand is as great some say then the best way to reduce STRAs is increased competition.

I know people who if they re going to a community where there is limited hotel space (St Thomas/Tillsonburg- communities similar in size to Cobourg) they use a STRA for a couple of nights.

There is plan for a Holiday Inn in Cobourg but for some reason(s)-Town or Developer- the plan for a new hotel has stalled; allowing STRA to fill the void.

Sandpiper
Reply to  Pete M
6 months ago

The New Hotel for Cobourg has been held up for 5 yrs now Holiday Inn Developments Know their Stuff and have never experienced so much Red Tape before coming to Cobourg
Most Communities want them for Jobs and Taxes and the Brand adds Credability
its an Endless array of never ending requirements and duplications . Plus the fact the Town has no sewage treatment capacity left in the west end can’t help

cornbread
Reply to  Sandpiper
6 months ago

Fire the whole Development Department…they are not doing their job.

Dam_213
Reply to  cornbread
6 months ago

Could not agree more than this. Took them over 22 days to respond to my email. I was looking to build using local business and going through all permits required. Due to the incompetence of the town, they did not even attempt to address my question but rather throw by-law after by-law at me, we will not be building. No money for the town or local business. The dept is a disgrace. Contractor that we hired said he never seen anything like it.

Pete M
Reply to  Dam_213
6 months ago

Somebody a Town Hall feels they need a by-law for everything. And the scary thing is that Town Council goes along with these numerous by-laws.
Town staff had been asked to research and advise on the issue of car rallys and course action-because Wasaga has a problem.
Last I looked the Highway Traffic governs how vehicles are to operate on highways (which encompass 400 series to the local streets).
The challenge Wasaga has knowing about pending and having appropriate police presence to deter or enforce laws.
What will a Town By-Law do other than to say all car rallys banned unless a fee paid and permit has been issued.
If an illegal.one happens, usually at night, Town by-law will be unavailable.
Town cant by-law its way for every issue.
People will by pass Cobourg- to live and work and set up businesses n a more welcoming community.

Bryan
Reply to  Pete M
6 months ago

Pete M,

The Wasaga “car rally” wasn’t a car rally in the context of an organized event requiring the participants to navigate a set road course with check-points. It was a bunch of car owners gathering to “burn rubber”, show off, make noise, etc. The OPP did not lay any charges for “car rally”. They did issue tickets and charges for loud mufflers, illegal car modifications, excessive noise, drunk driving, and other HTA violations.

Darling’s Concern with a “car rally” in Cobourg was a total waste of Council’s time. A total non-issue and distraction from far more important issues.

You are correct that a Town by-law would be useless, prevent nothing and do nothing to enhance the well being and safety of Cobourgians.

GailR
6 months ago

Most of the presenters last night had a vested interest. They were owners of short term rentals. Of course they wouldn’t see a problem.

When the Air BnB company was first set up, the selling point was that a home owner with a guest room, or a temporarily empty one, in their own house, could make a little money renting it out by the night. If you watch their current advertisements that is still the pitch. What has happened, of course, is that when there is no regulation people have seized the opportunity to acquire a number of small properties and run what I think is called a ghost hotel. A new phrase has come into use in real estate business articles – financialization of the housing market, when houses represent investments rather than dwellings. What that does, of course, is remove from the market many of the cheaper residences that would otherwise be available to buy or rent. This important aspect is briefly touched upon in the staff report. As an instance – Prince Edward County has a large number of STRAs. One of the best restaurants in Wellington has closed, blaming this on their inability to get staff because of the lack of reasonably priced accommodation for them. As there is no requirement for registration at the moment I would guess that there are a lot more short term rentals than have been counted.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  GailR
6 months ago

The staff report says that all STRA in Cobourg are currently illegal. Based on comments in the delegations there are now somewhere between 58 and perhaps 200+ STRA in Cobourg. Zoning violations are subject to fines of $1,000 to $100,000. It is my understanding that no fines have been levied. Enforce existing rules before wasting effort on new rules that will also be ignored!

Ken Strauss
6 months ago
  • Short term rentals are not currently permitted anywhere in Cobourg but nothing has been done about the violations of our bylaws and zoning rules. There was no mention last night of a pressing need for changes to the rules that are currently ignored.
  • Cobourg’s current governance structure has worked reasonably well over the past few years. Staff’s only rationale for change has been a very nebulous desire for “efficiency” with no specific examples of how the changes would improve things. Regardless of the lack of urgency and no clear benefits Council has devoted countless hours to studying governance changes.
  • Cobourg has never had a problem with unsanctioned car rallies yet Council unanimously directed staff to proactively investigate the non-problem and report their findings.
  • Trespassing is illegal yet nothing has been done about the growing number of trespassers at Brookside.
  • For almost a year we have used a disgusting Porta Potty to substitute for the downtown public washroom destroyed by addicts. There was been no discussion by Council about repairs.
  • There are frequent petty thefts, fires, street altercations and downtown vagrants yet almost nothing has been done about the problems.
  • There is open consumption of illegal drugs and discarded drug paraphernalia on our streets yet nothing is being done about the problem.

Does anyone sense a pattern? Council spends an inordinate effort on non-problems and ignores the critical problems that are destroying our town!

Rational
Reply to  Ken Strauss
6 months ago

Fully agree.

Given the Mayor and Council have 3 years still to run can Cobourg residents sit still and watch the destruction? (Current destruction 1 year x 3 more years = mass exodos from Cobourg.

What can be done to initiate/force changes in Cobourg Leadership. Either stepping down/by election. Would it be worth engaging outside legal council by concerned citizens for advice on a path forward, as the direction/effort on non issues by the Mayor and Council members has reached the ridiculous stage. Residents need to know what options are available.

Rob
Reply to  Ken Strauss
6 months ago

In this case Council should get out of the way! Go deal with issues that matter. Get your collective heads out of the sand. Condo boards can police themselves. We need Airbnb and UBER/UBER eats and Lyft and VRBO. These STR’s won’t become viable rentals because the vast majority of people needing a rental won’t be able to afford them – these are nice places that have been renovated and invested in, resulting in high-end rental costs.

Frankly, the only reason Council is interested at all is because they see yet another taxation opportunity.