Dysart resident lobbies county to tax short-term rental properties

By James Matthews

Haliburton County comes up short by having no means to tax the local businesses that are short-term rental properties.

Philip Harknett, a property owner in the county since the 1980s, stated that case during council’s June 28 meeting. He said the Airbnb accommodation was an inflatable mattress in somebody’s San Francisco apartments.

“What we have here is second homes that people have invested in as a business, and it’s time this county got down to taxing and regulating these businesses,” he said.

To effectively do that, four things are required: Properties need to be inspected, licensed, regulated, and taxed.

Many municipalities have taken to comparing what’s offered at the property to ensure needs of parking and septic requirements are met.

“Also, I think, something that gets lost here is the safety of these people that come to visit our county,” he said.

When there’s many people being crammed into these places, he said, an inspection is important to ensure adequate fire alarms, avenues of egress, and other precautionary measures are in place.

Licensing fees annually generate revenue for the municipality. And, he said, further revenue can be generated through the levying of a municipal accommodation tax as many centres do across Ontario.

Listings are monitored and property owners lose points for infractions of township regulations to the point of possible delisting.

He said the number of properties available should be limited in certain areas.

Short-term rentals removes properties out of the pool for long-term rentals and it effects local business.

“One of the big problems for them is getting staffing if there’s not the housing,” Harknett said. “What’s happened (to housing options)? It’s gone to short-term rentals.”

Outside property owners and investors benefit from short-term rentals, he said, and the local community comes out on the losing end.

“Taxing and regulating is just the right thing to do,” Harknett said. “It’s time. Let’s get this done.”

Warden Liz Danielsen, who is also mayor of Algonquin Highlands, said Harknett was preaching to the already converted. All the things he mentioned are concerns with which the upper tier council has grappled for some time, she said.

“There have been some challenges associated with the discussions we’ve been having and we’re hoping to resolve those very soon,” she said. “We all recognize the impact that short-term rentals do have on housing and the housing challenges we have in Haliburton County.”

Danielsen said the municipal accommodations tax is a topic on which the council hopes to focus.

“But it can only be done at the lower tier,” she said. “It cannot be done at the county level.”

She said there is “an awful lot” of short-term rentals in the county, with estimates being anywhere from 1,300 and 1,500 of them. And that does have an impact on available housing.

She said most of the recommendations that have come to the county and its four municipal governments has been against addressing the revenue issue by way of property taxes.

“It’s finding that balance of lifestyle for folks like yourself who want to come and enjoy life here in Haliburton County … and the fact that there is a benefit to our economy,” she said. “Where’s the balance? Where’s the line?”

Danielsen said plans are afoot to regulate short-term rental property businesses in the county.