Community calls for balance regarding short-term rentals

Gary Geissinger and Laura Dickinson proudly pose in the recently refurbished top unit of their property on Sunburst Drive where they hope to offer nightly guests an opportunity to enjoy the space and resort as they do themselves. | Photo SPIN

When Gary Geissinger and Laura Dickinson visited Sun Peaks from the Lower Mainland in February 2016 they fell in love with the resort and the community. So much so, they decided their long term goal was to retire in the mountain town.
After purchasing a property on Fairways Dr. with family in Sept. 2016, and legally renting it out to visitors when they weren’t using it themselves, they purchased their own investment property on Sunburst Dr. with the deposit accepted in May and possession on
July 21.

When they began the process of legally rezoning the property to allow short-term rentals, they were shocked to learn a moratorium had been issued by the municipality on July 4.
“My jaw dropped,” said Gessinger, speaking from the recently refurbished kitchen. “I was in shock. What does this mean?”

Like many properties in Sun Peaks, the house had been used as a short-term rental for years, operating in a grey area before the launch of “spot zoning” to RS-1A in 2014.

The couple bought with the assumption that rezoning would be a simple matter of filing the correct paperwork and proving they met requirements. There was no reason to think otherwise as 40 applications had been processed so far, with 32 granted, six currently being processed and two granted temporary use permits.

Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality (SPMRM) said they issued the moratorium in response to a growing number of complaints regarding spot zoning and the process around it, stating it needed to be halted while a solution was found.

“It became apparent to us it wasn’t working anymore,” said chief administrative officer Rob Bremner to a packed public meeting on Sept. 16.

Things have changed; the community’s population has almost doubled since 2012, meaning more neighbourhoods have larger numbers of permanent residents. At the same time, the number of tourists has also increased, creating a strain on existing housing inventory and exacerbating short-term rental issues as well as an employee housing crisis.

People on both sides called for balance between the need for short-term rentals to fuel the village economy while not infringing on rights of residential owners.

Geissinger and Dickinson were there to share their story.

“I’m in a very uncertain financial situation,” he told the room, stating they had invested close to $1 million on their newest property and were now facing potential financial hardship.

Among other voices, several property owners in Lookout Ridge raised a separate concern. They purchased lots in a residentially zoned area built for single family homes to be away from the busy tourist areas, but because of the spot zoning have had to deal with neighbouring short-term rentals and the issues that come along with them, such as noise and parking problems.

“(Under the current rules) all undeveloped land on Lookout Ridge could all be nightly rentals,” said property owner Maureen Walker.

Statements from the public were heard for almost two hours, including from those in the hotel and tourism industry, who brought up issues of fair taxation and limited inventory.
Mayor Al Raine said the meeting showed the need for tighter enforcement to noncomplying rentals, better communication with property owners and residents and casting a wider net for feedback when rezoning a property.

“Council will be hard pressed to address all the issues,” he said.

He also acknowledged they have seen positive results from when they first started regulation, including implementing business licence requirements and only allowing one suite per property to be rented nightly and the other to be rented or occupied long-term.

“We know we see less complaints when people can’t rent out both (nighty),” he said.

SPMRM is currently looking at options including not allowing any short-term rentals in residential zones (although they cannot revoke zoning which has already been granted), limiting the allowable percentage of short-term rentals on residentially zoned streets, increasing compliance tools at increased costs, and increasing business licence fees, fines and penalties.
“I can’t forecast where council will land, but certainly leaning towards more restrictive practices and greater enforcement,” Raine said.

They have also encouraged Sun Peaks Resort LLP to develop more tourist zoned areas.
“We know we must figure it out pretty quickly. When we put the moratorium on we obviously caught some people in limbo that were wanting to go that way (to rezone),” said Raine.

“There are no guarantees that anyone is going to have short-term rental in the beginning,” he said. “People bought residential properties with no promise by anyone that they would become income properties. While it may negatively impact a few owners our obligation is to the broader community. I don’t think council should feel pressure because someone wanted their property rezoned. We have to look at the bigger picture.”

He said he hoped council would be able to lift the moratorium by the end of October with new guidelines.

Until then Geissinger and Dickinson will continue to work on fixing up the property for their own use over the winter, as well as to hopefully welcome nightly guests.

They have spoken with their realtor and plan to submit an email to council with suggestions from researching best industry practices.

“Hopefully we can find a solution that works for everyone,” said Dickinson, adding she felt the municipality has done well facing the challenging rate of growth in Sun Peaks.

In the meantime they will wait with fingers crossed. If they aren’t able to supplement their mortgage payments with nightly rental income this winter, they will be forced to sell, even with renting out the lower unit long term. They will not only lose the property, but also their dream.

“It’s our retirement plan,” said Geissinger. “It’s very difficult for many people to retire now. And we made a plan that was financially feasible and then
this happened.”