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Bowen Island, B.C.'s mayor says he hopes adopted provincial guidelines on short-term rentals will protect primary residents and prevent purpose-built vacation rentals in residential neighbourhoods.JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

Seventeen B.C. towns and rural areas have opted in to new provincial rules that significantly curtail short-term vacation rentals, joining 60 municipalities where people hosting properties on platforms such as Airbnb will be limited to renting out only their principal residences.

Under the legislation, which takes effect May 1, hosts will also be required to register with the province. The rules, announced last fall, automatically apply to hosts in any city with a population greater than 10,000, but smaller communities were also able to opt in.

On Thursday, the government announced several had, including popular tourist destinations such as Tofino, Osoyoos, Pemberton (near Whistler), Cortes Island and several electoral areas in the Okanagan Valley. The municipalities say the proliferation of short-term rentals has meant homes in their communities have been converted or built especially for the vacation market, leaving housing for locals in short supply.

“We’re a small community of about 4,200 people that feel the pressure of being a 20-minute ferry ride from Vancouver. We’ve seen the proliferation of short-term rentals in residential neighbourhoods,” said Bowen Island Mayor Andrew Leonard.

His community had already put in place a number of restrictions but the provincial rules will be an improvement, he said, adding that they protect primary residents and prevent purpose-built vacation rentals in residential neighbourhoods.

Under the new law, people can only rent out a room, laneway suite, basement unit or whole house if they live there full-time. The province is setting up an enforcement unit that will investigate cases where people appear to be breaking the rules. The penalties for individuals have been set at $500 to $5,000 a day per infraction and up to $10,000 a day for corporations. People listing a unit will be required to get and list a business licence number.

The aim of the legislation is to return housing to the full-time rental market. In March, the provincial government shared figures showing more than 19,000 entire homes are listed as short-term rentals.

The new rules also require short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb to share data with the province. Local governments can request that a platform remove any listing that does not display a valid business licence.

Premier David Eby said the changes will allow the province and local governments to crack down on speculators who are effectively operating mini hotels.

``If you are standing neck and neck with a family that’s looking for a place to live and you’re trying to do a speculative investment … we are going to tilt the deck every single time towards that family,’’ the Premier said.

The restrictions have provoked bitter reaction from people who say their livelihoods or retirements depended on the income they made from short-term rentals, which they argue provide a valuable service for people visiting family or having to come into cities for medical services.

A group of short-term rental property owners in Victoria filed a lawsuit last week in B.C. Supreme Court hoping to obtain an injunction to prevent the city from cancelling their business licences. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the West Coast Association for Property Rights, which court documents say has a membership of 290 people.

The lawsuit says the petitioners have been renting out their units in full compliance with the City of Victoria. The province’s new rules will affect those businesses, contrary to a presumption of law that statutes should not impair existing rights unless the effect cannot be avoided, it states.

The lawsuit goes on to say that the province’s housing plan includes significant government funding to purchase rental apartment properties, to assist non-profits to do the same and to subsidize apartment construction. The new rules around short-term rentals, it argues, are “the only part of the program where 100 per cent of the cost of achieving the benefits the government seeks is imposed on private landowners.”

– with a file from The Canadian Press

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