Skip to content

Objections to Oro-Medonte's short-term rental rules heading to tribunal

'There have been some horrendous activities taking place. They’re not behaving like normal people do,' says Peter Lavoie
Welcome to Oro-Medonte sign
BarrieToday files

A group that says Oro-Medonte Township’s bylaw amendment restricting short-term rentals (STRs) is an overreach is preparing to have its challenge heard by a provincial tribunal.

A Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) date set for Wednesday will lay out the course for how Oro-Medonte Association of Responsible STRs objections against the township’s amended bylaw, which prohibits them in residential areas, will unfold. 

Two other groups that say Airbnb-type accommodations have been an ongoing problem in the township  which contains prime waterfront property as well as ski resorts  have been granted participant status at the appearance scheduled for June 2 when hearing dates are to be set.

The rural township wants to prohibit short-term rentals in residential areas. Mayor Harry Hughes has said the target is party houses where large groups of people gather for weekend-long parties, causing a great deal of consternation to permanent residents.

The Oro-Medonte Good Neighbours Alliance  a self-described incorporated group of ratepayer associations which indicated to the tribunal that its members would be affected by its decision  as well as the national not-for-profit coalition Fairbnb Canada will participate in the hearing.

In February, the parties expressed an interest in pursuing tribunal-assisted mediation.  

Vacationers have long rented property in the rural area between Orillia and Barrie, says Barry Sookman, president of the Oro-Medonte Association of Responsible STRs, which is challenging Oro-Medonte Township’s bylaw amendment.

Given rising property values that then lead to rising tax bills, it’s become a necessity for some families who have long had properties, he argues.

Sookman says last summer’s travel ban meant that cottage country became extremely desirable, allowing people a chance to at least get away. And the demand was high.

That’s expected to occur again this summer once the provincial government eases current stay-at-home restrictions. 

“People couldn’t cross borders, couldn’t travel, so they were looking for a local destination. The availability of a cottage was a godsend for a lot of people,” he said. “In the summer time that’s coming up… they’re fully booked. There’s a real apprehension that families aren’t able to travel like they would want to and so they’re thinking again of being able to use the amenities of cottages.

“The problem is with these aggressive positions taken by Oro, Seguin and Collingwood it’s becoming very challenging because there are some people that are going to be afraid to rent even though what they’re doing is fully legal," Sookman added. 

Sookman says he doesn’t oppose the township from taking action against disruptive operations, but says its approach paints all STRs with the same brush, regardless of whether they’re problematic or responsible.

The bottom line, says Peter Lavoie of the Oro-Medonte Good Neighbours Alliance, is there’s a problem and it needs to be addressed.

“There have been some horrendous activities taking place,” he said. “They’re not behaving like normal people do.”

The residents who actively lobbied township council to address the issue will have a seat at the tribunal to “give voice to the fact that mixing commercial use in residential zones is not appropriate,” Lavoie said.

They are worried that their concerns could be lost to new councils in the future, which could lead to the problem festering longer, so they want to make sure the public remains aware of the issue.

Meanwhile, Thorben Wieditz says the problem extends beyond Oro-Medonte's borders.

Wieditz is director of Fairbnb, a coalition of groups looking for a national policy framework to control home-sharing operations. That organization also has a seat at the upcoming tribunal hearing.

“We realized this very much fits into the larger context,” said Wieditz. “We have been heavily involved in the short-term rental regulation in Toronto. We were helping getting rules in place in Toronto, Vancouver and most recently Ottawa.”

Fairbnb’s reach also extends to small municipalities, which includes Oro-Medonte from where residents reached out.

While Toronto has experienced a drop in short-term rentals by 60 per cent during the pandemic, exacerbated by new regulations, Wieditz says there’s been an uptick in smaller communities in proximity to the larger urban centres.

Sookman pointed out booking services are reporting they are booked for the summer.

One of the challenges Wieditz has seen, in addition to the complaints over disruption, is the overload short-term rentals could have on infrastructure in smaller communities.

Having status at the Oro-Medonte hearing keeps Fairbnb in the loop of tribunal decisions, he said.

“We also want to make sure that decisions are consistent with past decisions made,” Wieditz said.

The organization, Wieditz added, is concerned about unregulated growth and it seeks a balance. While there are some who rent their own home there are others who purchase properties in smaller communities for the sole purpose of renting out for short periods.

Fairbnb argues that approach often uses in-demand housing stock and it can also attract parties and other activities disruptive to permanent residents.

Reader Feedback

About the Author: Marg. Bruineman

Marg. Bruineman is an award-winning journalist who focuses on human interest stories
Read more