Discussions continue among township council and staff in East Hawkesbury about regulating short-term rental accommodations such as Airbnb units.
In June, several Front Road residents attended the council meeting and voiced concerns over noise and parties at a short-term rental property on the Ottawa River waterfront. At the August 8 council meeting, owners of short-term rental accommodations and residents opposed to the units addressed council.
Councillors Stéphanie Sabourin and Karina Sauvé were absent from the meeting. Four individuals were scheduled to appear before council, however one did not show up.
“Cottages across Canada have been rented out for a long time, even before Airbnb became a thing,” said Ken Lee, who owns an Airbnb accommodation on the waterfront.
He said any loss of short-term rental opportunities would create a disadvantage for people who cannot afford to rent cottages but can instead afford to go together with friends and rent as a group. Lee emphasized he is not renting a place for people to party at.
“There’s a misconception of my place being a party house. I am strongly against parties at Airbnb’s.”
“If you’ve ever seen my listing, the rule is there’s no parties allowed, no loud music after 11 p.m,” Lee said, adding he tells guests to respect the neighbours.
Lee said he bought the property at a peak price of $2 million and doesn’t want people to come and party and destroy it. He said the price point for renting the accommodation is high, with a minimum booking of two days. He said the high price and minimum time period discourages parties.
Lee said he resented being described in the community as an outsider.
“We’re all Canadian. I live in Ottawa, obviously I don’t live here full time. I stay at the place whenever I can,” Lee said, adding he rents the property out to cover the mortgage.
“I don’t see why this is becoming a crime or something like that,” Lee remarked.
Lee said he was recently at the property during the daytime with family. He played music from a laptop and took exception to a neighbour telling him to turn it down.
“There’s a certain level of noise that’s allowed in the day,” Lee noted.
“I respect what you’ve said, but it’s the first time we’ve had to deal with this in East Hawkesbury,” responded Mayor Robert Kirby.
Kirby said he was disturbed and surprised that Lee did not come and have a meeting with council or township staff to explain his plans before embarking upon them. He then asked Lee if he ever approached the neighbours about his plans.
“Oh yes, yes, as soon as I bought the property, I approached the neighbours, I told them,” Lee answered.
The property owner said he gave neighbours his contact information and explained to them that he lives in Ottawa and would only be staying at the property sometimes. Lee said it was actually his friends and himself, not his rental customers, who stayed up late a couple of times.
Another Airbnb owner only identified as Gopi then addressed council.
“I’m not an investor or anything like that,” he said, explaining how he had lived in a local rental unit last year, liked the area, and wanted to have his own property.
“We love this place, and this is where we want to retire,” he said.
Gopi said his renters have included employees requiring temporary accommodation while working in the area. He has a property manager looking after the location and has made strict rules, limiting occupancy to four people, with no parties and no loud music.
“We want to respect the neighbours and the surroundings,” he remarked.
Gopi said banning short-term rental accommodations in East Hawkesbury would set a bad example for new businesses in the township. He suggested the municipality instead regulate the accommodations.
Carole Zbacnik, a neighbour of the Lee property, told council eight groups had stayed there since July for an average of three days, and two were obnoxious and rowdy, with loud music playing until 4 a.m.
“There was a beer pong table outside on the property for entertainment,” Zbacnik commented.
“There were dogs, and Mr. Lee does not allow dogs,” she added.
“At 12:45 a.m., one individual started howling at the moon. It woke me up, it woke my husband up, and without us knowing, woke our neighbour up,” said Zbacnik.
She contacted Lee about situation and asked him to enforce his own rules.
“There’s still a lot of questions we need answers for,” Kirby commented.
An audience member asked if a police report was ever filed about the noise. Another neighbour answered that a report was not filed and he went to the police station the next day and inquired what could be done.
“Basically, unless there’s a live band out there, they’re not coming,” said the resident.
Another resident said she is concerned about the number of people gathering at short-term rental properties and worries the accommodations could change the fabric of the community.
“This is going to open the door to people buying investment properties here,” she said.
Kirby said a decision on regulating or banning short-term rentals in East Hawkesbury will be made at a later date.
Councillor Simon Rozon voiced strong opposition to short-term rental accommodations.
“If I had a million, two million, or five-million-dollar house along the river, and I had an Airbnb beside me, I would not like it,” Rozon said.
He believes the accommodations will lower the value of nearby properties.
“I am telling you now Mr. Gopi and Mr. Ken (Lee), I am against that, and I will vote against it all the way,” Rozon continued. Loud applause from the audience followed.
Law firm Vice Hunter LLP has prepared a report for the township, which the firm may use in drafting a by-law for council to regulate short-term rental accommodations.