Bylaw Enforcement staff for the Islands Trust estimate there are potentially hundreds of unlawful dwellings currently on Gabriola.
Warren Dingman, Bylaw Compliance & Enforcement Manager gave a report for current statistics around Short-Term-Vacation-Homes (STVR) & Unlawful Dwellings statistics at the Sept. 29 Local Trust Committee meeting.
There are currently seventeen files open on unlawful dwellings for the Gabriola Local Trust Area, with three of those files open on Mudge Island. One file is for concerns over residential use (liveaboards) in Degnen Bay.
The remainder of the unlawful dwellings are files for secondary buildings being used for residential purposes where they are not permitted.
Dingman said enforcement on unlawful dwellings is still complain-driven.
“I suspect, the complaints we get, represent less than 10% of the total unlawful dwellings. What we get are concerns about sewage. So we get asked how people are dealing with their grey and black water.”
In saying there may be hundreds of unlawful dwellings, Dingman was basing that on reports created on Salt Spring and Pender islands. On North Pender, before secondary suites were legalized, Trust staff reported there were 500 secondary suites. Dingman said Pender has a population half that of Gabriola.
“If have doubt about the hundreds of unlawful dellings here. We don’t do research on the total, we operate on complaints.”
In terms of STVRs, Dingman said there are eight short-term vacation rental files open, with one of those on Mudge. The Mudge Island file has an inactive Airbnb advertisement and is being monitored for compliance; the property is also for sale.
The majority of the other files are being monitored for compliance and there are no grounds to issue bylaw violation notices at this time or take other enforcement action. There is either no new activity on the lots or they are now operating as a bed and breakfast. One operator is proposing to submit a temporary use permit application but has not done so.
Dingman said one operator has an active unlawful operation and has been recently issued a violation notice.
“This operator has paid multiple fines and court action may be necessary to close it, but the property is also for sale, and once sold, the matter may be resolved.”
Dingman explained the fines for an illegal STVR are $350, discounted rate (if an operator pays early) is $225.
“That’s [paying fines] is what he has been doing. Billing out at $200 a night, we can’t write fines fast enough to keep up with this issue. If we had software, if we developed a PDF form, we could do it faster instead of handwriting it.
“The operator can make enough from the operation, to make [fines] a cost of doing business.”
Trustee Scott Colbourne said that, “opens up more questions, we won’t have time this term to fix it.”
STVRs require a temporary use permit. Currently there are four approved temporary use permits for STVRs in the Gabriola LTA and one applicant is in the process of renewal.