Norfolk Airbnbs receive unexpected visitors

A great deal of consultation and collaboration went into the formulation of Norfolk’s latest Economic Development Strategy 2019: Final Report. At Norfolk council June 4 expressing appreciation for the process and support for the report’s 61 recommendations were Dusty Zamecnik, chair of Norfolk’s agricultural advisory committee, and Michelle Kloepfer, chair of Norfolk’s tourism and economic development advisory board. Monte Sonnenberg/Delhi News Record

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Homeowners who want to earn extra money renting out their property short-term may want to do their homework first.

At the June 4 meeting of Norfolk council, Mayor Kristal Chopp noted that some people who advertised their Airbnb homes in Norfolk publications were surprised to receive visits from local fire inspectors.

Some were told to make expensive upgrades before re-opening their homes to visitors.

“Now they’re being held to a higher standard than a home property as a rental property,” Chopp said.

“It’s such a critical thing right now. We just don’t have enough places to stay. It’s frustrating. I’m hopeful that people who want to provide alternative accommodation can do so without having a ton of bricks come down on them.”

Chopp made her remarks during a presentation of Norfolk’s Economic Development Strategy 2019: Final Report. The county’s first economic development update since 2011 was presented to council by Clark Hoskin, Norfolk’s manager of tourism and economic development.

In previous appearances at council, Hoskin has spoken about shortages of hotels, motels and other rental accommodations in Norfolk during peak tourism periods.

The problem arises because these peaks punctuate long periods of the year where there isn’t enough traffic to justify the care and upkeep of year-round lodgings.

The county has identified sharing-economy approaches such as Airbnb as a possible solution.

In his report, Hoskin noted there are about 35 Airbnb properties on offer in Norfolk. Like the Uber taxi service for vehicle owners, Airbnb lets homeowners decide when they rent out their homes, for how long, and at what price.

Complications arise because homeowners in the sharing economy become landlords under Ontario law.

As such, they must follow legal provisions related to smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and evacuation planning in the event of an emergency.

“As an owner, you have obligations under the Ontario Fire Code for ensuring the fire safety of persons who rent your home or part of your home whether this is on a short-term or long-term basis,” the Ministry of the Solicitor-General says at its website.

“As an owner, it is your responsibility to ensure your listing meets those safety requirements.”

“Provide opportunities for more overnight tourist accommodations” was one of 61 recommendations to emerge from the most recent economic development consultation. Another recommendation – one that would help solve the down-turn in tourism in the winter, spring and fall – is “Grow overnight tourism spending in the off-season.”

Ward 6 Coun. Amy Martin said constituents in Port Dover and other communities would like to get behind that.

“I think there is something there – something business owners are begging for and want to drill down on,” she said.

Other recommendations include:

  • Consider taxing tourists to fund tourism marketing and development.
  • Explore legal cannabis-themed tourism experiences.
  • Increase volunteerism with a centralized data base and co-ordinator.
  • Explore ways to support collaboration among service clubs.

Council appreciated this menu of choices, but Hoskin was advised not to spread his resources too thin. Better, he was told, to do a few things well than a mediocre job on everything.

“When we were kids, we got to look at the Eaton’s catalogue but only got to pick one thing,” Windham Coun. Chris Van Paassen said.