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Prince George city council pushes back against short-term rental rules

B.C. law that takes effect May 1st would limit short-term rentals to host’s primary residence and either a secondary suite or accessory dwelling
Prince George city council is pushing back against the province's new rules on short -term rental accommodations.

Prince George does not meet the criteria to opt out of the province’s Short-Term Rental Accommodation Act, but city council is unanimous in its opposition to the new legislation and intends to fight to keep the local short-term market for rooms, suites and rental houses intact.  

Council decided at Monday’s public meeting that data supplied by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data which shows rental vacancy rates were 3.7 per cent in 2022 and 2.8 per cent in 2023 – below the province’s three per cent minimum threshold for two consecutive years  - does not accurately reflect the actual number of vacancies in Prince George.

“The provincial government came up with a number that’s completely arbitrary,” said Coun. Kyle Sampson. “They haven’t shown a lot of fact about why it’s three per cent across the board. Every city in different. Why not an average over a number of years?

“Frankly, for me this is another example of the provincial government stepping into our lane and worrying about our jurisdiction of governance while not fulfilling their responsibility in their area. We want to be responsible for these types of decisions in our community.”

On May 1, the principal residence requirement comes into effect and short-term rentals will be limited to a host’s primary residence and either a secondary suite or accessory dwelling unit. The law is applicable to all municipalities with populations greater than 10,000. The goal of the legislation is to return short-term rentals to the long-term housing market and alleviate housing shortages.

Coun. Cori Ramsay cited CMHC’s vacancy chart of row housing numbers which show the percentage of three-bedroom units is missing. According to the chart, the data was suppressed either to protect confidentiality or because the data was statistically unreliable. It shows apartment vacancies in Prince George were at three per cent for 2023. Ramsay says because the overall vacancy rate does not take into account the three-bedroom row housing total, that dropped the overall vacancy rate for the year to 2.8 per cent.

“It says the data was suppressed to protect confidentiality but we know that was not the case because in the previous year it reported it,” said Ramsay. “So we have to assume the data was suppressed because the data was not statistically reliable. The lack of data in the three-bedroom row house is what is pulling the entire vacancy rate down, in my opinion.

“In Prince George, according to our housing needs assessment, 31 per cent of households are renters in private households, 41 per cent are renters living in apartments of less than five stories, five per cent are in apartments of over five stories and only nine per cent are living in row houses. It’s a really small percentage of renters in our entire makeup living in row houses, so I think it’s reasonable to ask that the province consider removing that (requirement) due to the three-plus bedroom rental (number) not being there.”

Ramsay said the new law would cause undue financial hardships for cancer patients and their families and for expectant mothers from rural and remote areas across the north in areas that lack obstetricians, requiring then to move to Prince George for the final trimester before they give birth. They utilize long-term rentals as a cheaper alternative to hotels.

“This is not as a simple one-size-first-all, I do think we have to push back against the province,” said Ramsay.

If the city does not opt out, the earliest it could seek an exemption from the act would be 2026 and, under the new rules, would only qualify for the exemption if vacancy rates are at least three per cent this year and in 2025.

Two real estate management companies in the city emailed Coun. Brian Skakun on Monday, one of which estimated the vacancy rate at between four and eight per cent, based on 600 units being available for rent. The other report had a vacancy rate of between seven and eight per cent on 118 units.

“That’s just a small portion of it,” said Skakun. “I really think the CMHC numbers are skewed. There’s a total lack of consultation with a lot of local governments and I think the province is going after the low-hanging fruit, these business folks who have created a niche in the market for working professionals coming to town.

“I talked to one person that has some short-term rentals just for the families of people that come to Prince George for hospice (care). They don’t want to stay in hotels/motels, they want to do their grieving and come to a place they call a short-term home. We challenge them on the stats that they’ve used. (The average) is over three per cent over two years, so if it goes below three per cent in one year you’re basically done for two years. That’s not fair and we definitely have to push back.”

Shakun said similar motions to fight the legislation were passed in Penticton and Vernon and he’s hoping the push back will result in changes to the law.

Assuming there is no exemption for Prince George this year, it would be up to the Provincial Compliance Unit to enforce the principal residence requirement. The city has no bylaws in place that regulate short-term rentals.

The motion to opt out passed unanimously and city administration will send that decision off to the province and await a response.