Country Life in BC

February 2017

Richmond exempts agri-tourism from rental ban

by Peter Mitham

City wants better definitions on basis for limits on housing size, use

RICHMOND – Richmond is banning short-term rentals in the city but agri-tourism operations are exempt – for now.

City councillors voted January 9 to ban short-term rentals in response to a growing number of public complaints, which increased four-fold from 26 in 2015 to more than 100 in 2016.

“The decision we made [January 9] was that we would to go ahead with prohibition of short-term rentals, but there are exceptions to that. One of them is for agri-tourism and another one, the main one, is for bed and breakfasts,” mayor Malcom Brodie told Country Life in BC.

Short-term rentals have increased in number thanks to the increasing popularity of AirBnB and other online homeshare sites, which listed 1,586 properties in Richmond when staff checked in November 2016.

The city needs to define the various categories of accommodation so that they’re simple to regulate.

“They’re fairly modestly defined at this point, so we expect that there are going to be more bylaws and regulations which will define those terms and what exactly that means,” Brodie says.

Monster houses

A key point to define is when a primary residence becomes primarily tourist accommodation.

With applications for residences of more than 40,000 square feet on farmland acreages, some of which are now listed on AirBnB, the perennial issue of monster homes has once again reared its head.

The mansions are not only out of proportion with the rest of the landscape, many also receive farm tax status if the properties yield $2,500 in farm products. This is what’s happening with many Lower Mainland properties, according to an investigation by the Globe and Mail, which found that properties worth as much as $16.7 million were paying as little as $400 in property taxes.

The same investigation found that some property owners are building residences with a view to operating them as visitor accommodation – hotels, in a word – a prohibited use of farmland.

The circumstance outrages Richmond councillor Carol Day, who told Country Life in BC that the city regularly receives applications to build homes of 20,000 and 30,000 square feet and more. City staff report that one application proposed a 41,000-square-foot home with 21 bedrooms.

It was rejected, like many others, but without municipal limits, the tide of applications continues.

Richmond claims it’s been “progressive in managing dwelling units” in the ALR through the use of setbacks originally adopted in 1994. Council in Delta imposed limits on farm residences in 2006, requiring they be no more than 3,552 square feet on lots less than 20 acres and 5,005 square feet on anything larger.

Between 2010 and 2015, the average floor area of houses on Richmond’s ALR parcels rose from 7,329 square feet to 12,087 square feet – a 65% increase.

“People have these huge homes, and it’s one thing if they want a big residence for themselves; it’s a different thing if they want it as a hotel for tourists and strangers,” Brodie says.

Constructing a big home doesn’t necessarily mean an owner is going to run a guesthouse. Richmond attempted to limit farmhouse size in 2010 but drew fire from South Asian residents who often have homes designed so multiple generations can live together.

Nor does Brodie see the harm in having people over, if owners have the room.

“If a few people want to go to a farmhouse and be there for the night, I don’t know that that’s such a problem,” he says. “Where the problem comes in is where somebody has a house with 20,000 square feet and they want to do that – basically, a hotel in the farmland.”

The province, for its part, has refused to intervene. A bylaw standard the BC Ministry of Agriculture issued in 2011 suggests a maximum residential footprint of 22,000 square feet. The principal farm residence should have a maximum floor area of 5,400 square feet.

Richmond’s planning committee considered a staff report on January 20 that outlined four options for limiting residences within the Agricultural Land Reserve. Two options reflected the BC Ministry of Agriculture standard and two reflected the tighter limits Delta imposes.

Sources in the field told Country Life in BC the proof would be in practice, suggesting that the city hasn’t yet been able to keep on top of infractions when it comes to farm residences.

However, this is why the city needs solid definitions, Brodie said – though he isn’t ruling out hiring more enforcement staff, too.

“We want staff to come up with more rigour around the bylaws for better definitions and to make for more cost-effective enforcement possibilities,” he says. “We’ll probably get some extra manpower in terms of bylaw officers to help us, at least in the short run.”