December 5, 2023

Local Airbnbs: Money-Makers or Headaches?

Short-term rentals generate revenue but also angst for rural communities

Article by Suzanne Atkinson

Airbnb image listing local rentals

Grafton- Thanks to short-term rentals, visitors to Northumberland have lodging options far beyond the basic hotel/motel/campground options.

Airbnb says world experiential short term stays are on the rise with tree houses, camper vans and farms offering visitors an experience they might not normally have, at the click of a mouse.

It’s a business anyone can get into and the extra income makes a difference; especially as interest rates and mortgage payments soar.

Bonnie Annis, a Alnwick/Haldimand homeowner who leads the Alnwick Haldimand Business Owner’s Association and has commented extensively on Facebook page Grafton Ontario says renting out a few rooms in her home is a financial help since her mortgage payments tripled.

But there are a lot of strong views- pro and con- about regulating such enterprises. She attended a council meeting this summer when council and staff fled to a ‘safe room’ after spectators became raucus.

She says the solution is right in front of this and any council grappling with the management of short term rentals: Enforce the bylaws you have on the books.

A June Airbnb study shows it is fueling “more immersive travel by dispersing guests… to new and trending communities with few or no hotels.” Its hosts “may be the primary—if not the only—providers of local accommodation and drivers of local tourism.”

Vacation Rental Business Opportunity (VRBO)  says rural getaways are… up 30% globally. A VRBO spokesperson added in an email to News Now Network that “additional activities like horseback riding…further enrich the experience for families.”

But the world of short term rentals (STR) is not all roses, especially for neighbors of businesses where rules are ignored, police only offer warnings and municipalities don’t enforce bylaws.

A local woman we’ll call Moira says patrons to a STR in Alnwick/Haldimand, park on her lawn, lounge on her outdoor furniture and refuse to leave when asked. She filed 15 complaints last summer, received just one visit from a bylaw officer and saw no reduction in violations to her private property rights.

Another local woman told News Now Network that clients of a STR frequently cut through her property to access Rice Lake. With new people visiting every weekend she says calls to the owner have not reduced trespassing incidents.

Licensing of business falls under municipal jurisdiction says a spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Suzanne Atkinson

“A municipality has powers to license and regulate businesses within its jurisdiction, including short-term rentals. It is up to each municipality to determine how it will use this authority,” it told News Now Network in an email.

How many vacation rentals are dotting the countryside and the revenue they’re pulling in is anyone’s guess. But if it’s any indication, a 2021 McGill University study commissioned by Prince Edward County found that on any given day that year, more than 400 active listings were generating $138,000 per day. Today the county lists more than 900 licensed venues and a staff position is dedicated to the file. It charges a four per cent municipal accommodation tax for stays of 30 days or less, applied as a separate item on a bill. That pays for administration, tourism promotion and road repair.

Airbnb spokesman Matt McNama says the beauty of short term rentals is that they’re available and revenue-generating in communities where there are no hotels. He says for every guest who stays at a STR, approximately $250 is spent in that community.

Guests can filter for location, amenities, bedrooms and more.

How much money hosts are making isn’t a topic anyone wants to discuss, and owners, like those here in Alnwick/Haldimand, resist municipal regulation and taxation. This council was floating an annual $750 fee; and the idea of revoking STR licenses if bylaws and building codes are violated.

Annis’s association of short term rental owners say their business should face no more rules than any other small business.

She points out offering a room in rural and remote communities means that people returning home for a wedding or family event have some place to stay. She sees it as a much needed service.

Alnwick Haldimand Business Owner’s Association members are pitted against homeowners who live adjacent to unregulated facilities which have become Party Central for dozens of visitors throughout the year.

Overlooking Rice Lake is a one kilometre stretch of road known as Curtis Point. Once home to seasonal family cottages, it now includes nine short term rental properties. Cottage septic systems were never designed to handle the traffic of over-crowded, tiny spaces, says Kerin Valcourt, a resident disturbed by the chaos created in her community.

“Where do they all sleep?” she asks explaining that three bedroom cottages squeezed on to tiny lots often house upwards of 20 people who party til all hours of the morning. They are owned by out-of county-residents who enforce no rules. The visitors disrespect adjacent home-owners by trespassing, ignoring requests to leave and fighting. She shudders at the impact on private septic systems and the water table.

When they’re called, OPP only issue warnings to quiet down.

“No charges have ever been laid,” she says.

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation says it has over 200 different criteria for assessing properties, classification is based on its use and the length of stay is not necessarily determinative of the classification.

It’s media relations spokesman said “currently, there is no definition or tax classification specific to short-term rental accommodations in the Assessment Act or regulations.

“Properties having less than seven self-contained units are included in the residential property class. As both short- and long-term accommodations often contain less than seven self-contained units, they are generally classified in the residential property class.”

Airbnb spokesman McNama, says people are looking for “connectivity.” Airbnb got its start more than a decade ago when its San Francisco founder offered a mattress on the floor of his garage on the internet for accommodation.

In the Canadian travel dispersal report Airbnb found non-urban travel, accounted for the highest growth in supply and demand in nights booked in 2022 compared to 2019.”

The company says it is committed to working with “policymakers and local governments across Canada and around the world towards fair regulations that balance the benefits of home sharing with the unique needs of each community.”

The McGill University study found that one third of the dwellings in the village of Bloomfield in the County were short term rentals in 2021.

A spokesman said since the County introduced its Short-Term Accommodation (STA) licensing program in 2019, “various regulations and compliance checks have been implemented to address issues such as overbooking and noise complaints.”

Issues of non compliance are recorded on the property’s STA License, and if there are three instances, the license may be revoked.

Maximum bedroom capacity is two people, fines are up to $4,000 and again, after three penalties, the STA license can be revoked.

And operators who run STAs without a license are typically identified through advertisements and public complaints and face fines up to $20,000.

Suzanne Atkinson is an agricultural columnist who regularly contributes to Ontario Farmer/Ontario Dairy Farmer and is also a dairy farmer near Warkworth. She views well-managed short term rentals as a wonderful way for farmers to pull in some extra income that can help with a mortgage and the high cost of running a family farm. She can be reached at:


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