Frustrated residents as Essex grapples with short-term rental dilemma

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Like many communities around the world, Essex has seen an influx of short-term vacation rental properties to boost tourism. But a growing number of city residents have expressed frustration that too many of them are nothing more than party houses causing havoc in their neighborhoods.

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Loud music, massive yard bonfires, round-the-clock fireworks, drunken behavior and uncontrollable parking on small residential streets caused by people renting vacation properties, like Airbnbs – especially in the waterfront communities of Colchester and Oxley near Lake Erie – have created a nightmare for permanent residents.

“You have sleepy landlords who don’t do anything but take money,” said Bruce Fowler, who has lived with his wife Linda for the past nine years on the lake in the 800 block of Lawrence Avenue. in Colchester South. “You have people renting them for parties or large family gatherings and you get 10 to 25 cars on our narrow street.

“You hear them going at one or two in the morning, screaming, swearing and playing music. The owners don’t care who they rent from. These people don’t rent them for accommodation, they rent an Airbnb so they can party all night.

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It’s just disgusting and disheartening

Essex City Council and administration have tried in recent months to get the problems under control.

Two open houses were held to hear residents’ concerns, and the administration worked on a draft bylaw to better regulate the city’s short-term rental properties, now estimated to number around 300.

Bruce Fowler is shown hearing from his waterfront home in Colchester on Saturday April 2, 2022. He is upset at the number of short-term <a class=rental properties near his retirement home.” class=”embedded-image__image lazyload” data-src=”https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/windsorstar/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/essex-short-term-rentals-1.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288″ data-srcset=”https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/windsorstar/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/essex-short-term-rentals-1.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288, https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/windsorstar/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/essex-short-term-rentals-1.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=576 2x” height=”750″ loading=”lazy” width=”1000″/>
Bruce Fowler is shown hearing from his waterfront home in Colchester on Saturday April 2, 2022. He is upset at the number of short-term rental properties near his retirement home. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

The draft bylaw is due at a city council meeting on April 19, but residents are so far confident it won’t go far enough to address their concerns.

“We’re watching Zoom (board) meetings and it seems all they’re worried about is attracting tourism for the wineries,” Fowler said. “But those (short-term rentals) on our street, you can watch them bring their own cases of beer and wine to party. They don’t go anywhere. »

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His wife Linda added: “We don’t mind if it’s run like a real business. These are not the ones we are looking for. They are those who are looking for easy cash. They (the owners) get a short term rental, realize there are no inspections or regulations. They do what they want without any rules.

“They put it on the internet and don’t care about anything five star and rent to people who just want a party house. It’s just disgusting and disheartening.

Affected residents have formed an informal group calling themselves STRIPO – property owners affected by short-term rentals. One of the leaders is Dennis Smith, who has resided on Oxley Beach Drive for 10 years.

He listed half a dozen areas of concern he hopes the draft bylaw will address, including limitations to prevent saturation of short-term rentals on any street, parking controls, absentee ownership , deficient property standards, enforcement, and ample licensing fees — to cover adding another city bylaw enforcement officer.

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“Our fear and worry is that they don’t pay enough attention to our issues,” Smith said. “On my beach you have nine houses – and three of the nine are short-term rentals. It’s crazy. We know we can’t make them go away. Airbnb is global. But they settle in neighborhoods and make motels.

“We want to see strict regulations and that they pay an enforcement cost. Probably 80% of them are handled as they should be, but there is one group that causes problems. There are absentee landlords and bad tenant behavior that disrupt the quiet enjoyment of (permanent) residents of their property. It’s become a monster in some neighborhoods.

This is an example of a short term <a class=rental unit on Sullivan Street near Colchester Beach, shown on Saturday April 2, 2002 according to nearby residents.” class=”embedded-image__image lazyload” data-src=”https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/windsorstar/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/essex-short-term-rentals-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288″ data-srcset=”https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/windsorstar/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/essex-short-term-rentals-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=288, https://smartcdn.gprod.postmedia.digital/windsorstar/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/essex-short-term-rentals-2.jpg?quality=90&strip=all&w=576 2x” height=”750″ loading=”lazy” width=”1000″/>
This is an example of a short term rental unit on Sullivan Street near Colchester Beach, shown on Saturday April 2, 2002 according to nearby residents. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Essex Mayor Richard Meloche, despite residents’ frustration, believes the city council will strike the right balance with the upcoming bylaw.

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“We are not opposed to short-term rentals, but what the council opposes are disruptive rentals in neighborhoods,” he said. “By far, we have mostly respectful short-term rental owners in our communities, but there are concerns about some of those rentals.”

Meloche said the city does not intend to act as forcefully as Windsor. In February, the city approved a bylaw limiting their number, requiring operators to obtain a license ($232 for initial application, $191 for annual renewal), submit to police background checks, provide a $2 million liability insurance, to comply with building and fire codes. , allow inspectors inside to check if the unit is safe and provide proof that the property is their primary residence.

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Owners of short-term accommodation in the town must also pay the 4% municipal accommodation tax that hotels and motels pay to the town to help fund Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island.

“That’s not what we’re looking to do at all,” Meloche said. “We’re trying to put something in place to control and weed out those who don’t act cooperatively to be part of a neighborhood.”

Among the ideas is a points system that penalizes owners of short-term rentals for any trespassing, or mishandling that could lead to a potential loss of business license in town.

Other ideas include a gap of at least 100 meters between each short-term rental property, limiting parking to one space per bed, and an emergency contact list for each property so that a landlord can be notified at any time of the day to deal with inappropriate tenant behavior, Meloche says.

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“In some cases, you see 30 people invited to a party (in a short-term rental),” he said. “We want a system in place where neighbors can call. You’d think that would be an advantage for an owner who might not be in the know. They want their tenants to have a good time, but don’t see their property destroyed.

Meloche believes that with the summer season fast approaching, council must act quickly to put in place the bylaw and short term rental rules.

“We need (short-term rentals) in our community for our tourism industry – in Colchester in particular,” he said. “We want a set of rules and policies that create a better relationship than what currently exists.

“We need a system for our residents and landlords to communicate with each other to ensure that those who are causing problems at the moment are brought up to the same level as those who are not causing any problems.”

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