LETTER: Vancouver 2.0 or bust

LETTER: Vancouver 2.0 or bust

Kelowna’s short term rental policy calling concern

To the editor:

It’s astonishing that some people think Colin Basran and his councillors represent progressivism. The winner at the hearing on short-term rentals was not the progressive cause of housing justice.

The winner was, Coun. Luke Stack told the CBC, the Airbnb lobby, who beat an indelible path into City Hall and are now “laughing all the way to the bank.”

Last year, Airbnb was valued at US$38 billion. Stack and all but one of his colleagues voted in line with Airbnb’s interests.

If Airbnb won, who lost and what did they lose?

Renters United certainly lost in that we weren’t given the reasonable opportunity to be heard that law requires. As a recognized stakeholder, we told the City in advance we would need 15 minutes to present our information. But Mayor Basran announced at the start that speakers would only be allowed five, in breach of Bylaw 9200 that allows speakers more than five should they need it, in breach of the hearing procedures outlined in the March 12 hearing agenda, and in breach of the City’s statutory duty of procedural fairness.

Employers, employees, long-term renters and homebuyers also lost. In our written submission to the stakeholder consultation, Renters United provided scholarly research showing that short-term rentals have severe negative impacts on housing availability, rental rates, and house prices, affecting all these groups.

READ MORE: SHORT TERM RENTALS APPROVED

Members of staff also cited similar research findings in several reports to council. Such research depends on scientific data collection and analysis and is therefore not a joke. It was an inexcusable lapse of judgment when councillor after councillor expressed doubt at the hearing that these experts were right.

In doing so, not one councillor referred to alternative research findings. At best, they alluded to unfounded beliefs expressed by members of the public, many of whom admitted to having an interest in operating short-term rentals. These folks said they didn’t think short-term rentals had an effect on the long-term rental market. Not scientists themselves, they were understandably incapable of saying why.

City staff said at the start of the hearing that nearly 20 per cent of Kelowna’s long-term renters live in suites and carriage houses, and warned that prohibiting short-term rentals from operating in this type of housing was “critical” to limiting negative impacts on the long-term rental market. Councillors again sidestepped pertinent facts when they agreed with members of the public that changes to the Residential Tenancy Act justified involvement in short-term rather than long-term rentals.

Anecdotes abounded about how renters trash rental units, leaving landlords out by many thousands of dollars, and about how the law now makes it impossible to evict bad tenants. According to these accounts, suites and carriage houses have already been removed from the long-term rental market. As a result, there’s no reason to worry about impacts of short-term rentals on long-term renters, for there no longer are any long-term renters.

Renters United confronted the mythology surrounding the Residential Tenancy Act when we told council months ago the only significant change to the Act brought by the NDP government has been elimination of fixed term leases with mandatory move-out clauses.

Even Landlord BC advocated closing this loophole, which had allowed unethical landlords to falsely create vacancies and increase rents higher than the legal limit. Landlord BC’s CEO David Hutniak stressed the difference between “bad” landlords and “responsible and professional” ones, and said that effective pathways for the justifiable eviction of tenants remained unchanged.

It’s therefore unreasonable and unhelpful for City councillors to continue peddling the idea that the law is prejudiced against landlords. It’s a disservice to both renters and landlords that council has a hand in manufacturing or perpetuating such hostility within our community.

It’s worth stating that protection against tenant vandalism is available, sometimes included as part of homeowners insurance and sometimes available at extra cost. It’s high time we heard about landlords purchasing appropriate insurance rather than being inundated with self-serving and unverified tales of rampant tenant vandalism.

It’s also worth stating that the argument against renters developed in a new way at the March 12 hearing. Speaker after speaker – all having an interest in operating short-term rentals – suddenly distinguished between long-term renters. Student renters were great, whereas all others represented unfathomable danger and risk.

I argue that the real difference between students and other renters – seniors, moms and dads, tech workers, the disabled, mechanics, administrators, retail staff, nurses, and all the rest – is that students, renting for eight months, dovetail nicely with exceptionally lucrative seasonal vacation rentals for the rest of the year.

As for agreeing to allow short-term rentals in suites and carriage houses, mayor and council went one step further, ruling that operators of short-term rentals in this type of housing will not be required to live in them.

By creating an exception to the principal residence rule involving suites and carriage houses, as well as allowing exceptions for McKinley Beach, Sunset Drive and the Hiawatha, for the C9, HD2 and HD3 zones, and for a long list of projects to be grandfathered under rules that fly in the face of provincial law, the City has dismissed the most important regulatory tool, recognized globally, for preserving homes for people, not for profit.

In upending the principal residence rule, council has effectively issued an invitation to speculators, foreign buyers and drug lords needing to park money to infiltrate our housing market – already deemed the 28th least affordable in the world – thereby creating the very real risk of Kelowna becoming Vancouver 2.0, entirely unaffordable but for a few high income earners.

This the public would have heard, and more, had the City of Kelowna observed law and allowed Renters United to speak at the public hearing.

Dianne Varga,

Kelowna, BC

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