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South Okanagan resident tired of vacation rentals in her neighbourhood

Heritage Hills resident Deborah Shields has placed a No Vacancy sign in one of her home
Heritage Hills resident Deborah Shields has placed a No Vacancy sign in one of her home's windows, and is preparing to start a petition, to oppose the regional district's plan to allow vacation rentals in some areas.
— image credit: Joe Fries/Western News

Proposed new controls on vacation rentals aren’t sitting well with one local woman, who fears a revolving cast of fun-seeking neighbours will put a damper on her home life.

Deborah Shields has been in her new Heritage Hills house for two years, but about six months ago learned her neighbour had been renting out his property on a weekly basis. Since then, she’s seen a visitor outside in his underwear, had unwanted interactions and spotted wayward booze containers.

“This is my dream home. I work 12 hours a day. I don’t want to come home to different neighbours 24/7,” Shields said.

“They’re here for a party environment, they want to engage in conversation, and they want to whistle at my daughter. I find that an issue.”

Shields is soliciting help from neighbours to collect signatures on a petition that will oppose a new set of regulations for vacation rentals that has been proposed by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

The RDOS was forced to act when a judge ruled in January 2012 that its zoning bylaws do not allow it to regulate vacation rentals, particularly those that cause grief for neighbours. While tickets for noise complaints are available to enforcement officers, they’re just the price of doing business for some rental property owners.

RDOS staff has now come up with a plan to require property owners in most rural areas who wish to rent out their property to vacationers, usually for a week at a time, to apply for a temporary-use permit.

Shields, however, doesn’t like some of the proposed conditions that would be attached to a permit, in particular one that only requires a property owner be available by phone in case there’s trouble.

“When a party or a problem arises, it’s up to me to phone either him or the police. Why?” she said. “I have no stake in this commercial venture.”

She is also concerned that vacation rentals will adversely affect property values in what are supposed to be residential areas, and that the RDOS does not have enough staff to enforce new rules.

The RDOS has consulted broadly on its proposed strategy and received mixed reaction.

At Apex Mountain, residents are generally in favour of a hands-off approach, so the RDOS board agreed to bylaw amendments that will make vacation rentals an acceptable use in the resort community. In other areas, it’s been a tougher slog.

“There is no consensus, there is no unanimity on this issue. It’s very controversial,” Bill Newell, chief administrative officer of the RDOS, last week told a board committee that discussed the matter.

Newell said an enforcement policy, which is also forthcoming, would likely rely on complaints from the public about “egregious” contraventions that impact someone’s quality of life.

However, “without any rules, we can’t respond on those,” he said. “So then the board has to decide: Do you want to give up the tool to go and enforce … egregious cases, or do you want to stay out of it? That’s what you have to decide.”

Newell said afterwards that the board could vote on the temporary-use permit policy for the first time as soon as its next meeting June 20.

As currently proposed, the board would have to approve each permit and could take factors such as a property’s benefit to the community and proximity to other vacation rentals into account. Temporary-use permits would not be required for bed and breakfasts or secondary suites where the owner is present.

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