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Mayor says Oro-Medonte ready to defend its position against short-term rentals

'We had an existing bylaw and we still have that. All that was being contested at the tribunal was the definition of commercial,' says Mayor Harry Hughes
2020-02-18 Harry Hughes
Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes. Supplied photo

Oro-Medonte Township is ready to take the fight against short-term rental accommodations (STRs) to the next level.

In an oral decision last month, the Ontario Land Tribunal found the township's attempt to control short-term rentals through a bylaw amendment to be an overreach.

The township has responded by filing a notice of motion for leave to appeal last with the Ontario Divisional Court.

While a written decision with reasons hasn’t yet been issued, Oro-Medonte Township Mayor Harry Hughes said the township opted to leave the door open to appeal by filing its intent within the limitation period.

“We had an existing bylaw and we still have that. All that was being contested at the tribunal was the definition of commercial,” Hughes told BarrieToday. “She (the tribunal chair) felt that the amendment was overreaching.

“However, we didn’t get a written statement back from her, so we don’t know what she meant by that and her reasoning behind it," the mayor added. 

Hughes said the existing zoning bylaw from 1997, prohibiting commercial accommodations in residential areas, still stands.

Barry Sookman, president of the Oro-Medonte Association for Responsible STRs, which challenged the bylaw amendment, said the tribunal chair did lay out a path the township could take to control short-term rentals.

"LPAT (the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, now known as the Ontario Land Tribunal) has spoken and made it clear that banning STRs in the township is not good planning, which is why it revoked Oro's bylaw,” Sookman said in a statement. “The association hopes this is the end of the fight and looks forward to working with the mayor and the rest of council on a balanced solution to regulating STRs that truly targets the disruptive party houses."

In an interview with BarrieToday, Sookman said the tribunal indicated that any regulation of short-term rentals should be done through a combination of licensing and a zoning bylaw. 

He expects the tribunal chair to expand upon the oral decision and provide guidance about what the approach should be, which he believes could be of use to other municipalities.

“It may be that when we all get to read the reasons of this case, there will be sufficient guidance in these reasons that provide a framework for all the townships,” said Sookman.

The tribunal’s decision, he added, pushes the situation back to 2018-19 when the township was exploring solutions to the disruption complaints.

Peter Lavoie, a director of the Oro-Medonte Good Neighbours Alliance, supports the township’s application to appeal. The umbrella group for the township’s 14 residence associations was created as a common voice to address the issue of disruptive rentals. 

“We want to see the township undertake a Section 440 under the Municipal Act, which is where they seek injunctive relief from the courts to shut down at least one operator,” said Lavoie.

But what happens next, with the summer vacation season just around the corner, remains unclear, he added.

“Nobody’s really sure what the state of play is for short-term operators or what relief residents might be able to expect if they were able to complain about an operator,” Lavoie said. “We’ve wound the clock back four years.

“It’s still going to be a matter in the next election," he added. 

In its grounds for the motion filed with the court, the township outlined that conflicts between short-term renters and longtime residents led to an interim-control bylaw in 2018 to control short-term rental accommodations. That was followed by the amendment in 2020 to define the existing prohibition on commercial accommodations that was appealed by the STR group.

The township contends that the tribunal’s resulting decision in March contained legal errors in its interpretation of the bylaw and in finding the bylaw was not an appropriate result of the interim-control bylaw process.

“These questions of law and mixed fact and law are important to municipalities across Ontario who are seeking to regulate short term rental accommodations,” reads the township’s application.

Hughes said while the chair suggested the township consider adopting a licensing approach instead, the idea was earlier opposed by the community through a petition. The feeling was that licensing wouldn’t solve the problem because it would still have to be enforced, he added.

“We did a lot of research before we decided which direction we were going,” said Hughes. “We still have our bylaw in place that says they’re illegal.

“This is a problem that municipalities right across Ontario are struggling with and are running into significant barriers trying to do enforcement. The issue and the crux of this is really the party houses, the ghost hotels," the mayor said. 

Enforcement is not an easy process and is also complicated by court backlogs, Hughes noted.

But exactly what the township’s next move will be won’t be determined until the written judgment is released.

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About the Author: Marg. Bruineman

Marg. Bruineman is an award-winning journalist who focuses on justice issues and human interest stories
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