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LETTER: Blanket approvals open door to short-term rentals

Once upon a time, there was a lovely heritage house situated on a double lot on St. Patrick Street in the District of Oak Bay. The family that bought this old house consisted of two young professionals who attested they loved the old house as much as the previous owners who had happily lived there for many years. After living in the house for a short time, the new owners decided that they really wanted a more modern house. So, approval was given by the district to move the house down to McNeill Bay and take it away on a barge to a new location.

The district also gave approval to construct a 10-metre high, double-lot, monster of a house. Construction began in 2019 and was completed in 18 months. The neighbourhood watched in awe as heavy equipment worked to excavate for the very deep basement. Neighbours wondered why the family needed such a large house. Their reply was it was their dream house.

Suddenly, in July 2021 an Airbnb online listing showed a new basement suite on St. Patrick Street in Oak Bay. How did this suite magically appear? Was it on the district’s approved plans? No. Was it inspected? No. And, strangers began arriving and leaving regularly. A little while later, an additional Airbnb listing appeared for the whole house. The family would move out of their ‘dream house’ to allow complete strangers to rent it. Neighbours were alarmed. Our quiet, laid-back neighbourhood was invaded by unknown strangers — during a pandemic, no less. Did the district issue a permit to allow this? No! How was this allowed to happen?

Several neighbours got together in March 2022 to comply with the policy of two formal written complaints to enable the district to take action. This was done. The complainants were told that Bylaw Enforcement would use education and co-operation principles to gain voluntary compliance. Good luck with that!

The Airbnb on St. Patrick Street remains in operation to this day. Now, we know why they wanted such a large house. It is essentially an illegal, short-term rental business operating within our community.

Lesson learned. Remember, when the district gives blanket approval for secondary suites throughout Oak Bay, one can only imagine the resulting chaos.

Kate and Paul Wickens-Jobling

Oak Bay