Short Term Rental Policy Project

Project Update

Based on the community engagement results of Phase 2 (outlined in staff report to Council) and direction from Council, a draft policy was prepared and presented to Council in September.  The draft policy and staff report to Council can be viewed online.

The main intent of the policy is to allow for more STR use on the island to meet demand and economic needs of residents, while protecting communities from neighbourhood and long term housing impacts. The policy provides guidance on bylaw requirements, enforcement measures and taxation.

The draft is going to various committees and a public open house for review and comment through the month of October.  Stay tuned for details on the open house!

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
Background Information
Additional Resources
Submit a Comment

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

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

Current Regulation

A map showing commercial STR zones on Bowen Island.

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"

+ Official Community Plan

The Official Community Plan Bylaw No. 282, 2010 defines STRs as the rental of a dwelling, or portion thereof, which is available for use or is used for the accommodation of guests paying a fee or other compensation for a period of less than 30 consecutive days.  Acceptable types of STRs for Bowen include:

  • Bed and breakfast accommodation;
  • Guest house accommodation for one owner-occupied residential-style facility plus accessory space;
  • Small inn accommodation;
  • Lodge accommodation;
  • Hostels; and,
  • Historic cabins and guest suites in Snug Cove.
+ Land Use Bylaw

The Land Use Bylaw No. 57, 2002 permits some forms of STRs, mainly in commercial zones or as Bed & Breakfast use in residential zones.  Commercial zones that allow STR use are in the Cove, Artisan Square, Cates Hill (Rivendell and the Orchard), Cowan Point (Seymour Bay) and Killarney Lake (Xenia).

Bed & Breakfasts are allowed as a home occupation use on all residential lots that do not have an accessory residential use (secondary suite or detached secondary suite).  A Bed & Breakfast can be located within a dwelling or accessory building, but cannot have separate kitchen facilities for guests.  Also, they must be operated by a resident of the dwelling, which means entire dwellings are not allowed to be used for STRs.

+ Business Licensing

Starting in 2019, business licenses are required for commercial lodgings and Bed & Breakfasts ($100 fee).  As of April 2019, only five licenses have been issued for Bed & Breakfasts.

+ Other Regulations and Bylaw Services

Other existing regulations that are applicable to STRs include parking, the BC Building Code, property maintenance and noise control.

Since 2014, Bylaw Services documented ten STR-related inquiries, four of which involved bylaw infractions.  The number of inquiries seems to be indicative of both growing interest and concern around STRs in the community.

Table 1: STR-Related inquiries to Bylaw Services

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.

+ Business Licence

One common way local governments regulate STRs is via business licensing. This option may require fees, verify compliance and impose additional conditions of use, including good neighbour policies.  Administration of business licensing is resource-intensive for local governments, but costs can generally be recouped through fees.

The District of Sechelt requires STRs to have a business licence with terms, such as having a local contact who can immediately respond to issues, notification of neighbours within 100 metres and a written record of tenants’ names.  The local contact must be there to meet all tenants and the local contact cannot operate more than two properties unless they are the registered owner.

+ Zoning

Some local governments only permit STRs in specific zones deemed acceptable for this type of use.  This ensures that STRs are not located in proximity to sensitive uses.  Alternatively, STRs may be permitted via site-specific zoning.  Zoning regulations can also include conditions of use such as maximum bedrooms, no liquor to be provided, minimum parking requirements, signage with operator contact information, etc.  Determining where such zones can be located may prove difficult and site-specific zoning is a long and costly process.

The City of Rossland established a STR zone which allows up to 2 guests per guest room, 4 guests per guest suite and 8 guests per guest home, subject to a business licence, parking, and signage requirements.

+ Temporary Use Permit

Rather than rezoning, some local governments issue Temporary Use Permits (TUP) for STRs, which allow STR use for a limited time period and allows additional conditions of use as part of the permit.  Also, the TUP application process requires notice to neighbours and a public comment period.  However, the process may be long and costly, and operators will need to reapply once the TUP time period expires (maximum of 3 years).

The Village of Lions Bay prohibited STRs in all zones, except where authorized by a TUP. The Village adopted a policy to provide guidance for reviewing TUPs for STRs, including  preference given to residents, the maximum number of guests that may be allowed, parking, additional requirements if the property is within a Natural Hazard Assessment Area (e.g. indemnity), safety, water supply, impact on neighbours, quiet hours, signage, securities required, proof of insurance, and maximum length of initial TUP (1 year).

+ Principal Residence Only

A STR may only be located within an operator’s principal residence where they live for most of the year.  This is the address generally used in government records such as income tax, medical services plan, driver's licence and vehicle registration.  Principal residence status for most properties may be determined from property tax records.  This requirement helps preserve long-term rental properties and maintain neighbourhood character.  However, this restriction may not meet the needs of many operators on Bowen.

The City of Victoria uses this requirement in conjunction with a business licence requirement.

+ Cap on Days Per Year

The number of days in a year can be capped for which a property may be used as an STR.  Similar to the principal residence restriction, this cap can help reduce neighbourhood nuisance and loss of potential long-term rental properties.

The City of Revelstoke stipulates a maximum of 120 days (4 months) per year for STR use, and primary residence use for the remainder of the year. The 120-day limit is based on the maximum number of days before BC Assessment considers the rental operation as commercial and is taxed.

+ Entire Home Restriction

Restricting STRs from using entire homes can help ensure at least a portion of the home is still available for long-term dwelling use.  It also helps maintain the quality of life in such neighbourhoods by preventing excessive noise, traffic, and parking demand.  But, many homeowners on Bowen are seasonal and may have difficulty using their property as an STR with this restriction. 

The City of Richmond has implemented this restriction where boarding and bed & breakfast uses are permitted only if the operator also reside in the home.  Richmond specifically prohibits STR use of an entire house or residential unit for less than 30 days under any circumstance.

+ Municipal & Regional District Tax

The Municipal & Regional District Tax (MRDT) is a tax of up to 3% on the purchase of accommodation, including STRs, in areas such as municipalities.  The tax raises revenue for affordable housing and local tourism.  A municipality must register with the MRDT program to impose the tax.

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

STR Brochure

STR Work Program

STR Public Participation Plan

STR Background Report

Submit a Comment

Planning & Development
Municipal Hall
981 Artisan Lane

Last Updated on 2019-10-11 at 4:12 PM

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