Residents demand West Kelowna finally take action against illegal rentals - InfoNews

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Residents demand West Kelowna finally take action against illegal rentals

West Kelowna residents want the city to crack down on party houses and short term rentals.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Peter Boyd
September 28, 2020 - 5:15 PM

If you live next to a so-called 'party house,' there’s only one right move for West Kelowna city council to make when it comes time to make tough decisions on short term rentals.

“We need more bylaw enforcement staff and we need to up the fines,” Sabina Zerwes told Monday, Sept. 28, the day before West Kelowna council finally addresses the issue of short term rentals, which include highly offensive “party houses.”

Zerwes is the driving force behind a petition that gathered 410 signatures from the 300 homes on her hillside above Quails Gate winery this summer.

READ MORE: 'Stop party houses,' West Kelowna residents ask council

She lives between two 'party houses' on Pinot Noir Drive. She knows of eight such houses in the neighbourhood.

“It’s been a very bad summer for us, when we have to go into our house and hide to get away from the noise,” Zerwes said. “It’s not fun. People put up their retirement money to buy big homes and live out their days in a nice quiet neighbourhood, which West Kelowna wants too.

“We want safe and quiet neighbourhoods, family friendly, not this going on every summer. I can’t do that. We shouldn’t be pushed out. It’s the ones causing the trouble that should be pushed out.”

She said the owner to the two homes could have been fined $60,000 this summer if ticketed the maximum $500 per day for each house, but doesn’t believe that happened.

Bylaw officers’ hands are tied, she said. Renters may not open their doors when the officers arrive or they have been coached to lie and say they’re just friends staying for free.

“Short term rentals have proven to be challenging, time consuming investigations that create a strain on the current department’s capacity,” a report going to council states.

Council will be asked to either continue the existing policy of short term rentals being illegal but only investigated if there are complaints, to actively seek out the illegal operations or move to legalize and control them as most other cities have done.

They could also increase the maximum fine from $500 a day to $1,000 as many other cities do. Some have options to charge as much as $10,000.

This is where illegal short term rentals are in West Kelowna.
This is where illegal short term rentals are in West Kelowna.
Image Credit: Submitted/City of West Kelowna

The report says there are 378 short term rentals in the city. That is actually down from 420 in January, which may be due to COVID-19.

Of those, 82 per cent were entire homes, with 76 per cent being single detached houses.

“A disturbing trend in West Kelowna is the increase in the number of houses purchased specifically to be operated as ‘party houses,’” the report reads. “Party houses accommodate 8 to 16 occupants, are unsupervised and often include a pool or hot tub.

“Buying party houses specifically for illegal short term rentals has more than doubled the inventory of these houses in the past three years alone. These houses are creating havoc all summer long in many neighbourhoods with loud parties, excessive garbage and parking issues.”

It provides a couple of sample listings saying, for example, one house rents for $2,000 per night and was bought in 2018 for $1.32 million.

Image Credit: Submitted/Sabina Zerwes

“As the operator is not on site, the number of renters often exceeds the listing occupancy as it reduces the cost per person,” the report states. “These renters typically come from out of town for their stag and bachelorette parties with total disregard for the neighbours.”

The issue of short term rentals was first raised by the Greater Westside Board of Trade in 2017 but it’s taken three years for this presentation to get to council.

In 2018 bylaw officers responded to 37 complaints and initiated 25 of its own investigations but last year stopped doing its own investigations, only acting on complaints regarding 69 properties.

Another 34 properties were investigated this year, some because of multiple complaints.

Zerwes gives herself and her neighbours credit for the short term rental issue finally getting to council because they raised a stink about it.

“Silence is consent and there’s no consent for this,” she said. “No way. We need to be heard.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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