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B.C. businesses challenging new short-term rental rules

Arguments began on Monday (June 17) as a group representing property owners argues the rules shouldn't apply to established businesses
Orion Rodgers of the Property Rights Association of B.C. outside the courthouse where his organization's legal challenge of provincial legislation limiting short-term rentals was underway on Monday, June 17.

Arguments began at the Victoria Law Courts on Monday (June 17) in a legal challenge to newly enacted provincial short-term rental rules in which petitioners are seeking an order that will allow businesses operating prior to the legislation to be able to continue renting out units.

"People have bills to pay and they have debt to service," said Orion Rodgers of the Property Rights Association of B.C., speaking outside of the courthouse on Monday. His organization brought the suit in conjunction with local Victoria property owners. "There is actual tangible loss and it will continue every day until there's resolution on the legal proceedings."

Rodgers organization has raised over $200,000 for the fight from over 1,000 donors.

The new rules went into force on May 1 and limit short-term rentals to a person's primary residence and one secondary unit, effectively prohibiting the commercialization of the listing of homes or apartments on platforms such as AirBnB.

Premier David Eby addressed the issue while speaking to reporters in North Vancouver on Monday. He would not comment on the case directly, but did speak about the government's intention behind the legislation, saying the goal is to stop the conversion of family homes and condos to hotel rooms.

"Those are not sustainable business models," Eby said. "The province will be coming after you to address this because we do not have enough homes currently to allow people to be speculating in the residential housing market."

Though the petition is technically calling for a judicial review, the lawyer for the property rights groups, John Alexander, was clear that the petitioner was looking for declaratory relief and not trying to challenge the legislation itself. 

Alexander said he is arguing for a declaration that the new legislation cannot be enforced retroactively.

"In the legislation itself there is nothing that makes these provisions apply to previously established operating businesses," he told the court.

And if that declaration cannot be made, he said compensation is due to those property owners who lost these rights as a result of this legislation.

Alexander scored an early victory as he successfully fended off an attempt to get the judge to hear a late petition to throw the case out before hearing arguments on the case itself.

The suit is being brought jointly by the property rights organization and Victoria-based Amala Vacation Rental Solutions, a business that provides services to unit owners who want to rent out their places on sites such as AirBnB but don't want to deal with the day-to-day management.

Amala's owners, Angela Mason and Ryan Sawatzky, also own a rental unit themselves and Sawatzky is vice-president of the property rights group.

Mason said last week in an email to Black Press Media that her company will be forced to shut down if the lawsuit fails.

"If unsuccessful in the upcoming case before the Supreme Court of B.C. we will be closing our doors permanently in August 2024," she wrote on June 14.

On June 12, the City of Victoria had filed four separate legal petitions against the couple for alleged long-standing bylaw violations related to the businesses operation, though Mason said the new legislation is still the biggest threat to her business.

The city was originally also named in the property rights lawsuit, but was since dropped from the action and it is now just the provincial government named in the suit.

Arguments in the case are expected to continue for the the rest of this week.

About the Author: Mark Page

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