STR rules complicate lives, says operator

By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
People do whatever they can to get through the curveballs that life throws at them.
Sometimes doing whatever you can includes putting your Highlands East area cottage up for rent to short-term visitors. But there are aspects of the proposed bylaw to regulate Haliburton County short-term rentals (STR) that will further complicate life.
Lisa Watson told township council when it met Feb. 13 that her family had visited the region for decades until they finally bought their own property with two cottages and a bunkie. But then the economy tanked and interest rates rose.
Interest rates continued to rise until they had skyrocketed. And it was about that time when Watson became the primary caregiver of her elderly father who lives with Parkinson’s.
Those circumstances made visits to the cottage difficult. But that didn’t slow the mortgage payments made cumbersome by high interest rates.
“With a financial pinch and empty cottage, I made a very tough but sensible decision,” she said. “I was going to start renting it when I wasn’t able to make it up.”
Watson said she’s a responsible host who vets possible renters to weed out rowdy people who would prove disruptive to her cottage neighbours.
“If it isn’t the right fit, we decline the request,” Watson said.
She’s met many fine people who have become friends over the years, she said.
“When the new bylaw is passed, it seems we may and others will have to close our doors to rentals,” she said. “I will be forced to decide to keep Dad at home for the last few years or keep my dream property where I want to retire.”
There will be costs associated with the proposed bylaw that would prohibit operators, she said. The current draft of the rules has STR operators paying for licenses, inspections, shoreline allowance purchases, higher insurance, signage, and a new municipal accommodation tax.
The stipulations that pertain to signage have many STR operators fearing for their safety. It means the public sharing of information that may entice thieves.
Watson said she charges $300 for cleaning. But all that goes to a local cleaner she hires to go through the cottages. She also buys local flowers, jams, wines, and other gifts for guests.
“All of our supplies, from cleaning to propane and spring water, are purchased locally,” she said, and added that local workers are hired to help maintain the property.
“It seems that, by implementing these new bylaws, you’re creating issues that never existed before.”
The proposed bylaw is anti-business and anti-family, she said.
“These measures will close the door on tourism,” Watson said, and added how that would be a blow many county small businesses can’t afford.