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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex Admin directed to amend Short-Term Rental By-Law

by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

Essex Council directed Town staff to return to the municipal decision-making table with a By-Law amending its Short-Term Rental (STR) Licensing By-Law 2025, which licenses and regulates STRs in the Town of Essex.

  Changes to the By-Law will reflect those detailed in the report “Licensing & Information Update,” which Council received during the March 4 regular meeting.

  The changes could increase the licensing fee for STRS, not require external stickers on STRs, and introduce an online voluntary map to identify them.

  In May of 2022, the previous Term of Council adopted By-Law 2150, to amend the Comprehensive Zoning By-Law 1037 to regulate STRs in the Town of Essex, and By-Law 2025, to licence and regulate STRs in the Town of Essex.

  This permitted STRs in a residential zoning district, only if they have been established and in operation in an existing dwelling on or before the adoption of the By-Law on May 9 of that year. After that point, a STR was not permitted in a Residential Zoning District, except by approval of a site-specific rezoning through Council.

  In addition, new or existing STRs were permitted in a single-detached dwelling in an agricultural district, or in a dwelling or dwelling unit in a commercial district. New STRs were permitted in a cabin within a campground in a green district.    

  A formal license application was introduced, if the property conforms to the Zoning By-Law. All STRs in Essex had to be licensed by December 1 of that year.

   When introduced, STR licenses cost $700 and were valid for three-years, in addition to around $145 for the fire inspection that is good for the licensing term. This works out to be a total of $285.88 per year. 

  There is also a $100 fee to file an appeal to the Appeals Committee, if needed.

  Joe Malandruccolo, Director of Legislative Services, reviewed fees from other municipalities, and considering how they are charged, he said it made more sense to charge annually, not every three-years. In order to do that, administrative costs need to be bumped up. He suggested increasing the license fee to $372.36 per year, and that the fire inspection take place annually, instead of every three-years. That would bring the total per year from $285.88 to $530.

  Staff also looked at if licenses should be displayed on the exterior of such dwelling. It is currently required under the By-Law to do so. It was discovered other municipalities require interior licenses. Essex does as well, and it was believed that should continue. Malandruccolo added other municipalities do not require exterior licenses, as Essex does. It was suggested only requiring interior licenses.  

  In order for the Town to establish where STRs exist within the municipality, he suggested the creation of an STR map that would be accessible to the public via the Town of Essex website.

  In order to be included, STR owners would have to opt-in upon registering with the Town.

  Mayor Sherry Bondy had concerns with mapping, as it has to be voluntary by law. Councillor Katie McGuire-Blais suggested a map that indicates a general area and how many registered STRs are in the area.

  Malandruccolo added that licenses are considered expired when a change in ownership occurs.

  General regulations regarding the licensing originally adopted two-years ago included prohibiting the operation or advertising of a STU without the license, providing a local contact to respond and/or attend the STU within one hour, each renter has to receive and sign a Renter’s Code of Conduct, provide a minimum of one onsite parking space and one additional space for each two beds, and STRs must be operated in a clean and sanitary condition and must not cause nuisance or disturbances.

  A demerit points system was also adopted for contravening rules, which remain in effect for two-years and could lead to a six-month suspension or revoking a license. In addition, administrative penalty fees may be charged and fines could be issued through the standard Provincial Offenses Act process once approved by the courts.   

  Lori Chadwick, Director of Planning Services, noted under the current STR By-Law, if an unlicensed STR becomes licensed, owners will start off immediately with three-demerit points. If an unlicensed STR is advertised, the owner will be issued a $1,500 administrative penalty. In addition, if a Zoning By-law Amendment is needed, it would cost $2800. There is no guarantee of approval.

  So far, 83 STR licenses have been issued since introduction of this program, of which 80 STRs are currently active.

  The majority – 74 – are located in a residential area, with three in an Agriculture District and three in a Commercial District. There are no such units in a Green District.

  In addition, 74 are located in Ward 3, with two in Essex Centre, one in McGregor, and three in Harrow.

  Kevin Carter, Chief Building Official, noted investigations since the inception of the By-Law has resulted in 30 potential unlicensed STUs being advertised. All violators were sent a cease-and-desist letter on January 8.

  Of the 30 reviewed, 15 complied with the order. Eight applied for a license, and seven violators were issued the $1500 administrative penalty.

  The By-Law Enforcement Department will monitor illegal operating advertised STRs on a monthly basis. A database will allow for the tracking of repeat offenders, of whom will be issued the $1500 administrative penalty without further notice, he added.

  An appeal can be filed to the Town of Essex Appeals Committee for a fee of $150 for denied, renewal, suspended, or revoked licenses. There is no appeal process for demerit points, unless resulting in suspension or revocation. 

  The STR hotline has resulted in one valid complaint in 2023, Carter added. The Report a Problem platform can also be used. 16 STR requests were submitted through this online portal in 2023.

  Councillor Joe Garon asked if there could be more potential violators than the 30 contacted.

  Carter noted he is confident in that number as his department has a system to review the matter.

  Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley asked if, in the future, it would be considered to increase the renewal fee if an operator had demerit points.

  CAO Doug Sweet noted a fee schedule could be something brought back to Council to consider before the end of this three-year license period.

  Shepley urged residents with valid complaints to reach out to the Town to notify staff.

  “We need your help identifying anyone who is trying to skirt the rules. Any little bit you can do to help us out with that, our By-Law [officials] would greatly appreciate it.”

  Councillor Jason Matyi suggested discussing the addition of a Municipal Accommodation Tax, as they can ask for it. He would also like to see something on continuous non-conforming use, when looking at the history of potential STRs. He believes external signs play a big part in informing potential residents of an area where such units are located.

  Bondy noted when the By-Law comes back, public consultation and discussion on the matter can continue.

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