Short Term Rental Policy Project

Project Update

On November 25, 2019, Council adopted the Short Term Rental Policy #19-05. The policy was drafted based on the results of public engagement that took place throughout 2019. Details on the engagement process, results and outcomes may be found in the Public Participation Report.

The policy will guide a regulatory approach for Short Term Rentals (STRs) on Bowen Island.  This approach will involve a number of steps to implement, including application to the Municipal & Regional District tax program, subscription to a monitoring service for online STR listings, and amendments to regulatory bylaws.  The bylaw amendment process is scheduled to start early Spring 2020, which will include further research and public consultation to determine regulatory details.

Frequently asked questions about the Short Term Rental Policy

+ Why the 120-day limit?

The draft policy proposes limiting Short Term Rental (STR) use to 120 days per year in residential zones because this is considered a reasonable number of days that will help provide additional income for full- and part-time residents and meet demand for guest accommodation on the island, while keeping the residential area just that - a residential neighbourhood. STR operation for more than 120 days is considered a commercial use, which is still allowed under commercial STR options such as “guest house” and “inn” (see open house boards for more details).

To protect residential neighbourhoods, many municipalities limit STR use to only principal residences.  However, some communities, such as Bowen Island, have a high percentage of part-time residents with non-principal homes.  To allow STR use of non-principal homes, the 120-day limit has been used in jurisdictions around the world, including Paris, Los Angeles and, locally, Revelstoke and Nelson.

+ What if I want to rent out my STR for more than 120 days?

You would need to apply for a Temporary Use Permit or a rezoning of your property for commercial use.  These processes involve a public notice period and are approved at the discretion of Council.

Alternatively, your unit may be rented out as a long term rental at anytime.  Rentals for periods greater than 30 days are considered long term and do not fall under the proposed Short Term Rental Policy.

+ Why are secondary suites going to be allowed for STR use?

Secondary suites will be allowed for STR use for up to 120 days a year under the proposed residential guest accommodation use.  This will provide homeowners flexibility in the use of their secondary suites while still preserving availability for long term rental housing.

+ How do these restrictions help the long term rental situation on the island?

The restrictions provide for a balanced approach that will allow residents to rent out their dwelling for STR, providing additional income, and still have the dwelling available for long term rental.  120 days of STR operation would yield similar income to a full year of long term rental, allowing the option of long term rental to remain competitive with STR.

+ If we put a 120-day limit on STRs, won’t tourism and the general economy on Bowen be impacted?

Both STR use in commercial zones and Bed & Breakfast use in residential zones are still permitted year-round.  Currently, STR use of entire dwellings is not allowed anywhere on the island.  The policy allows the additional STR option for entire dwellings in all residential zones with the 120-day limit for the reasons described above. 

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Project Overview

Bowen Island Municipality is undertaking a community engagement process to develop a regulatory approach for Short Term Rentals (STRs).  The process is detailed in the Short Term Rentals: Work Program & Public Participation Plan.

Project Introduction

What is a Short Term Rental?

A Short Term Rental (STR) is a dwelling unit, or a portion of one, that is rented for a period of less than 30 days. Examples of STRs include Bed & Breakfasts, guest cabins, and vacation rentals.

Project Overview

Due to rapid growth of online platforms, such as Airbnb, STRs are becoming increasingly viable for both property owners and guests. While STRs may provide valuable revenue and help tourism, they may also impact neighbourhood character and long-term housing availability or affordability.  The goal of this project is to develop a policy that regulates STRs in a reasonable manner that addresses the needs and concerns of the community.

Project Timeline

March: Review existing conditions and Options; May: Engage key stakeholders; August: Draft and adopt a policy; November: Implement and monitor policy.

There is a range of regulatory approaches for STRs.  The policy development process is designed to identify an appropriate approach for Bowen based on accurate background information, best practices research and effective community engagement.

Project awareness: Information session, public launch; Provide information: STR Survey, Stakeholder Workshop; Identify needs: Open House, Council Workshop; Maintain communications: Public Updates, Public participation report

Background Information

Background Information

Current Regulation
Housing Needs
Local Tourism
Short Term Rentals on Bowen
Regulatory Options
Enforcement Options

Current Regulation

The Official Community Plan includes a variety of STR use, mostly commercial, that is considered acceptable for Bowen.  However, the Land Use Bylaw has very few areas on the island zoned for commercial STR use.  Bed & Breakfast use is allowed on all residential lots as a home occupation, but entire dwellings are not permitted to be used for STRs.

"entire dwellings are not allowed to be used for STRs"

[FAQ:Short Term Rentals]

Housing Needs

"top housing challenge for Bowen was a lack of rental housing"

The 2016 Census shows Bowen’s population of 3,680 housed in 1,495 principal residences out of a total of 1,915 private dwellings on the island.  The remainder of dwellings are mostly empty homes or seasonal homes.  The proportion of empty/seasonal homes is quite high on Bowen (22%) compared with the greater region (6.5%).

Despite the high number of vacant homes, rental housing on Bowen is very limited.  Only 1% of new homes built since 2011 are renter-occupied (2018 Bowen Island Community Profile), although 18% of households are renters (2016 Census).  The 2018 Island Survey revealed the top housing challenge for Bowen was a lack of rental housing.

An image of the Bowen Island mascots in houses.

Bowen also lacks housing diversity where almost 90% of dwellings are single-detached and only 4.6% are multi-family (more than 2 units in one residential building).  This means few smaller units for singles, couples or empty nesters.

Another housing type is the secondary suite, which was allowed on Bowen starting in 2008.  As of 2018, there were 47 active or completed legal secondary suites on the island.  To help protect rental stock, regulations do not permit STRs on properties with secondary suites.

Local Tourism

Tourism-related spending in region: $4.8 billion; 21,139 visitors at the Bowen visitor centre in 2018

Tourism is a significant revenue generator in the province and, particularly, in the Vancouver region.  In 2014, the region saw $4.8 billion of tourism-related spending (2017 Destination BC Regional Tourism Profile).  On Bowen, the Visitor Centre saw a 47% increase in number of tourists that were assisted over the past two years, with 21,139 visitors in 2018 (2017-2018 Bowen Island Visitor Report, Tourism Bowen Island).

A table showing the number of people assisted at the Visitor Centre from 2012 to 2018.

The peak tourist season is May through August, as evidenced by statistical data from Tourism Bowen Island and BC Ferries.  Most visits are day trips, but many do stay for at least one night.

"the vast majority of visitor lodgings are non-commercial Bed & Breakfast type accommodations"

There are few commercial options on Bowen for visitor lodgings:

  • One conference centre (25 units)
  • Two retreat centres (28 units)
  • Various commercial guest accommodations (13 units)

According to the draft 2013 Bowen Island Tourism Plan, the vast majority of visitor lodgings are non-commercial Bed & Breakfast type accommodations.

Short Term Rentals on Bowen

Over the last decade there has been rapid growth in online platforms which connect STR operators with guests.  These platforms charge a service fee for listings, manage bookings and payment, and may provide insurance to the operator.  The largest platform, Airbnb, was established in 2008 (Hotel Association of Canada, 2018).  Airbnb and several other short-term rental platforms, such as HomeAway and Flip Key, currently operate on Bowen Island.

"89% of the listing types were single-detached homes"

A map showing 2019 STR listings on Bowen Island

According to Host Compliance, an online STR monitoring technology provider for local governments, there were 123 online STR listings on Bowen Island as of January 2019. These listings were distributed throughout the Island with a median nightly rate of about $150 CAD. Of these listings, 89% of the listing types were single-detached homes.

Airbnb data showed that most guests were from the greater region and typically had short stays.  Interestingly, the share of female hosts is significantly higher on Bowen compared to the rest of the country, which may indicate STRs are an important source of income for females on Bowen where economic opportunities are quite limited.

Regulatory Options

Practices in regulating STRs range from prohibition (e.g. Harrison Hot Springs) to no regulation.  The most common practice is to permit STRs with conditions, such as through a business licence or Land Use Bylaw.  One of the key considerations when selecting an approach is the ability, or lack of, to administer and enforce the regulations.

 Business   Licence
  • Can recoup administration/ enforcement costs through fees.
  • Ability to impose conditions of use and fines for non-compliance.
  • Resource-intensive for local government.
  • An annual cost to operator.
  • Remove from sensitive areas.
  • Permitted locations easily identified.
  • Regulations may be required by zone.
  • Community consensus for permitted areas may be difficult.
  • Long and costly process.
 Temporary   Use Permit
  • Allows case-by-case consideration with public input.
  • Simpler process than rezoning.
  • Long and costly process.
  • Limited time period, operator must re-apply every few years.
 Principal   Residence Only
  • Maintain neighbourhood character.
  • Preserve long-term housing stock
  • May not meet needs of some homeowners, especially seasonal ones.
 Cap on Days   per Year
  • Preserve long-term housing stock
  • Reduce risk of neighbourhood nuisances.
  • Difficult to enforce.
 Entire Home   Restriction
  • Maintain neighbourhood character.
  • Reduce risk of neighbourhood nuisances.
  • Preserve long-term housing stock
  • Difficult to enforce.
  • May not meet needs of many homeowners, especially seasonal ones.
 Municipal & Regional District Tax
  • Revenue for affordable housing and local tourism initiatives.
  • Small increased cost to STR guests.

[FAQ:STR Regulatory]

Enforcement Options

The regulatory options mentioned above can be required either as terms of a business licence or through Land Use Bylaw regulations.  Fines may be imposed if requirements for business licencing are not met.  Non-compliance of the Land Use Bylaw is considered an offence that may, upon summary conviction, be subject to penalties and court costs.

An image of a lego person police officer

Currently, such enforcement is undertaken on a complaint-basis.  A more proactive approach could include the use of an online monitoring service, such Host Compliance, to identify active online STRs.  However, such services are costly at a minimum of several thousand dollars per year. 

Also, some requirements, such as cap on days or entire home restriction, will require detailed information on STR use that may be difficult to obtain.  Some online platforms may be able to provide such information, but not all STRs use these platforms.

Additional Resources

Last Updated on 2020-01-28 at 4:07 PM

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