Council has approved new regulations for short-term rentals, but it’s going to wait until the fall to implement the changes.

The regulations will limit short-term rentals like Airbnb to the owner’s primary residence in residential areas. In commercial zones, owners will be permitted to rent properties in which they don’t live.

During a public hearing Tuesday night, about two thirds of the 32 people who spoke were opposed to the new rules.

“I probably will lose my business. I will probably lose some homes and maybe even go bankrupt,” Jessica Woodman told council.

“It’s not something small.”

Woodman said she owns 17 Airbnb properties. Like many other short-term rental owners and operators who spoke, Woodman suggested the effect of short-term rentals on the housing market is overblown.

“It’s like the Red Scare: ‘Airbnb is going to change everything, Airbnb is going to destroy our affordable housing,'” Woodman said.

“You guys should give more money to people that are on welfare and that are in transitional situations. And then you wouldn’t have a problem with renting to people because our prices are sometimes lower than regular standard rentals. And if you do this, you are going to destroy my business.”

On the other side, Bill Stewart with the group Neighbours Speak Up said the regulations don’t go far enough. Specifically, Stewart said HRM should apply the primary residence requirement in commercial and mixed zones.

“We’ve just heard the recommendations concerning commercial short-term rentals and that they will be allowed to continue in areas where tourist accommodation is already permitted. We’re not sure of the rationale or background for those recommendations,” Stewart said.

“But we do have concerns that residential housing opportunities could be lost and that short-term rental property owners in residential areas might migrate to those commercial zones.”

Councillors vote for delay during late night debate

Councillors debated the regulations past 10pm.

Coun. Lindell Smith, who first moved to regulate short-term rentals in 2019, argued the proposal should pass as written.

“We have some of the most lenient short-term rental policies considering other cities and what they have done,” Smith said.

But the Peninsula North councillor was open to slowing down the rollout.

The provincial government will require all short-term rentals to register by April 1. Councillors suggested they may be able to get more data from those registrations to inform their work. A lack of reliable data temporarily hung up the bylaw amendments in December.

Coun. Waye Mason moved an amendment to delay the implementation of the bylaw to September 1.

“This would give people four months, it would mean we’d have more data, allow us to have more compassionate education rather than going directly to compliance,” Mason said.

Coun. Pam Lovelace supported the amendment.

“I think there’s a lot of community outreach that needs to take place,” Lovelace said.

“Certainly we have to help people understand the zone that they’re in, what is permissible, what is not, and communicate to ensure that it’s not such a bumpy ride.”

Coun. Shawn Cleary, who worried HRM didn’t fully understand the potential effects of the regulations, argued the delay would be confusing. That’s because the provincial registry requires owners to be compliant with municipal bylaws.

“I think by having this come into force at a later date, it actually could be a bigger disservice to the short-term rental owners than just saying yes or no now,” Cleary said.

The amendment passed 10-6, with Deputy Mayor Sam Austin and councillors Cleary, David Hendsbee, Becky Kent, Trish Purdy, and Kathryn Morse voting no. The main motion, as amended, passed 13-3, with Kent, Purdy, and Cleary voting no.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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