Kingston delays on residential rentals but votes on short-term rental licensing

City council will be voting on a new licensing program for short-term accommodations like Airbnbs and cottage rentals.

The licensing costs level the playing field with hotels and bed and breakfasts that collect the accommodation tax paid by their customers.

Coun. Mary Rita Holland says the more important goal is it ensures the places meet property standards and building codes.

“We’re trying to find a way to ensure there is a sort of quality assuredness for residents and renters.”

One room would cost just under $175 over the five-year lifespan of the license.

Licensing would also include an inspection of the property by the city to make sure the building meets property standards and municipal building codes.

City staff have been working on the licensing plan for roughly a year and it was also supposed to include a similar set of rules for residential rentals.

Residential rentals would include building with one to three apartments along with buildings that have four or more apartments without a site plan.

That part of the staff report was deferred by the city’s administrative policies committee.

The reasoning given is so that staff could finish three studies that could impact and provide more information for councillors.

Those studies are the North Kingstown Secondary plan, the central Kingston growth and inflow study and the comprehensive zoning bylaw.

Paige Agnew, Kingston’s director of planning, building and licensing services says the work signals a dramatic shift in municipal policy.

Licensing would change how the city enforces building and property standards.

Currently, Agnew says the process is complaint driven.

“As a city, we’ve been moving the last couple years from a complaint-driven approach to enforcement to proactive and getting out there trying to do education and bring issues to the forefront.”

Licensing rental properties is concerning a number of landlords in the city.

One of those landlords is Lindsey Foster. She and her husband have several properties in the city.

She says the property standards are vague and even Agnew has admitted they can be subject to interpretation.

Foster says they’ve also seen tremendous increases in the property assessments by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.

Foster says most of the increases have been, on average, between seven and 10 per cent but some have been as high as 18 per cent.

So far, Foster hasn’t passed those costs on to her tenants but add in licensing fees and she says she will have to make some difficult decisions.

“If we are being taxed to death and we are being licensed to death then the only solution for us is to sell.”

More than 60 per cent of Foster’s units are in the King’s Town District, an area that is becoming increasingly popular with homebuyers because of its location near the downtown.

Foster says selling could impact the city’s inventory of rental units.

“New buyers are not buying it to rent it out, they’re buying it to move in and it becomes owner-occupied.”

It will be a difficult, if not impossible task, for city staff to come back with a residential licensing plan that will please both landlords and tenants.

That solution is expected to be formulated sometime in 2020 or 2021.

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