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Newmarket considers broadening rules for short-term rentals

Council debates whether changes needed to the bylaw that restricted, licensed short-term rentals in 2020
Newmarket resident Pat McLean urges Newmarket council May 27 to make changes to the short-term rental bylaw.

Newmarket resident Pat McLean said he was running a successful short-term rental business before the town put a new law into place.

He said he sought to use his basement as a way to help generate revenue to address increased costs of living. He described being surprised by the uptake, with people coming from all over for short stays in town. He avoided neighbour complaints, living in the home himself, he said. 

But that changed when the Town of Newmarket's new short-term rental bylaw went into effect in 2020, he said, adding more restrictions that prevented him from maintaining the property as a short-term rental. He was turned down for a licence, due to his basement suite being segregated from the rest of the home. 

“I support the local economy. I try to send other people out there to support the local economy,” he said. "I would rather not delist my basement apartment, so I can run it as an Airbnb ... Hopefully we can, at least maybe, reconsider." 

The town will consider a review of its short-term rental bylaw, with council approving a motion today to have staff bring back options for what that review could look like and what zoning amendments could be considered. 

The current rules place several limits on short-term rentals. As it stands, they need to be licensed, have someone living at the property long-term, cannot be wholly separated from the rest of the home and can only exist in detached homes.

The new rules came into place to address "party houses" and to keep rentals within homes on the market. The law also came into place after a shooting outside a short-term rental home in Newmarket sparked community discussion. 

The staff report said short-term rental licences have continued to be issued, with more than 80 projected this year. About 27 licences have been denied since the bylaw came in, while 28 complaints have been received, mostly relating to unlicensed operators.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said he believed in staying the course. He said he could understand the wish for some residents to generate more revenue. But he said the current law is working well, and protecting existing long-term rentals from getting converted into short-term needs to be prioritized. He also said many other municipalities are looking to go in Newmarket’s direction.

“I believe strongly, in a housing crisis which we’re in, and very very low vacancy rates, that we have to prioritize and put in place policies that protect rentals for people and families in a longer-term, that are stable.” 

But other councillors said a new balance could be found. Councillor Bob Kwapis said he appreciates the need for rental housing but that having more short-term opportunities could be positive. He also said some landlords may never consider long-term rentals but would consider short-term ones.

“That’s the area that I’m concerned about, opening up more rightful opportunities as opposed to taking up or taking away, the rental opportunities that are there right now, and that’s where I’m trying to find a fine line,” Kwapis said.

Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh said he had difficulty understanding the need for the rule on a short-term rental to not be in a segregated unit and have access to the bulk of the house. He suggested it would be worth tweaking.

Another report from staff on the matter will come before the council at a future date.