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Bunk houses for tourism-related businesses to help with housing

Bunk houses, back on council’s agenda Wednesday evening, are now deemed a permitted use under Tourist Commercial zoning.

At a special planning committee meeting council approved staff’s recommendation to amend the existing Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw to accommodate the change to the bylaw to include bunk houses.

The idea behind the change is to encourage more affordable or attainable housing in the County, and is specifically geared to those working locally in the tourism industry, and who have difficulty finding any accommodation, or an affordable place to reside.

In his report to council, Michael Michaud, manager of planning noted housing is an important factor for those that want to participate within the tourism economy.

It was noted that the idea to include bunk houses within the Tourist Commercial zoning is a similar concept to what is currently allowed in the agricultural sector.

“Unfortunately, many businesses are unable to attract or retain workers given the high prices for both the purchase of housing or the rental of a dwelling unit, such as an apartment,” said Michaud.

The now-approved proposal creates a new ability for tourism-related businesses to be able to construct and rent apartment-style housing to their employees, in the form of housing known as bunk houses.

“The idea is to permit businesses within the TC (Tourist Commercial) zone to be able, as of right, to construct a bunk house of up to six dwelling units on their property for the use of their employees.”

Michaud noted in his report that for any bunk house greater than three units, site plan control would apply. That evaluates factors such as water, septic, parking, landscaping, garbage and fencing, among them.

Michaud confirmed a bunk house with three or fewer rooms would not be subject to site plan approval, but it would be subject to a building permit. Such a permit determines septic and water, as well as distance between other buildings.

“The reason the cut-off level is proposed at three units is that the parent TC zone permits a single-detached dwelling as a permitted use and most single-detached dwellings have three bedrooms,” he said.

Councillor Jamie Forrester asked how it will be known whether the bunk houses will be used for their intended purpose, and not for rental units.

Michaud said that was the function of the building permit application to ensure that they are built for that purpose.

“The lease agreements could be furnished to ensure that they are rented for personnel that are working on the business or within the business,” Michaud said. “Ultimately, there is not a whole lot we can do; we can provide the use and hope that people abide by the proper use of that particular property.”

Forrested expressed concern “We are creating another avenue for people to abuse.”

By creating a multitude of housing opportunities, the supply of housing available within the County can more effectively respond to local housing needs and changes in demand, noted the report.

“The provision of affordable housing is one segment of the housing supply that the current Official Plan policies are aimed at creating,” noted the report.

It is suggested bunk houses could house a number of employees relatively cheaply on the property of the business.

“A bunk house would operate much in the same way as what was once known as a rooming house,” outlined Michaud. “The chief difference from the agricultural sector is that the worker homes are as of right and are typically a cheaper three-season home as the workers are not needed in the winter.”

Councillor Janice Maynard agreed “The last thing we need is rooming houses rented out as short-term accommodations.”

Michaud reminded that the definition of a bunk house dwelling is fairly specific: ’a dwelling unit for the sole purpose of housing seasonal, temporary tourism workers’.

Maynard had concerns over the clause being enforceable, where Michaud said it was enforceable, if there was a complaint made.

Michaud also confirmed that bunk houses are not managed under the Rental Tenancy Act.

“They are a room for rent from the actual owner of the property and not subject to those provisions,” he said.

“The idea here is these bunk houses would be on the same property as the tourism business and therefore if they are going to the trouble of building them for their employees, it`s probably going to go that way,” said councillor Mike Harper.

“If someone is going through the expense of building one of these facilities, you would think they would be using them for their employees to make their business more successful,” said Michaud.

The report noted that land prices and the prices of housing (purchase and rental) have become a major issue with respect to affordability.

“Much of the tourism-related businesses share a similar problem in not being able to attract and retain employees as a direct result of the affordability issue,” Michaud said. “This issue directly translates into a business’s survivability given a need to provide a wage premium for employees, or to find any at all.”

Michaud explained that bunk houses would more or less resemble a larger house where the owner would rent out a room, or portion of a room, to an employee for the course of their employment at the business located on the property.

“A bunk house would have a maximum of six bedrooms and have a common bathroom, kitchen and living room areas,” he said. “The maximum number of bedrooms coincides with what is currently permitted for a rooming/boarding house within the County’s zoning bylaw.”

The Ontario Building Code (OBC) views a bunk house as a rooming house, where the six rentable rooms would house a maximum of 12 people (two per bedroom).

Further, the OBC requires each bedroom of a rooming house to require a 45-minute fire separation, and if the bunk house accommodates more than 10 people, a fire alarm system is required, including pull stations.

If there are five rooms or less (10 people maximum), the owner still has to provide the fire rating, but would only need to interconnect all the required fire alarms, which is a cheaper and easier installation, noted Michaud’s report.

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  1. Susan says:

    Many of our bylaws are only complaint driven. Bylaw is aware of illegal STAs but unless a neighbour files an official complaint they could get away with no licencing fees, no inspection fees and no Mat Tax collected! If you don’t rat out your neighbour there is no action.

  2. CountyProud says:

    So, notionally I get what this is hoping to accomplish and on the surface makes sense – to provide suitable, affordable living conditions for on premises workers.

    Where I start to become concerned a bit is this –
    “Maynard had concerns over the clause being enforceable, where Michaud said it was enforceable, if there was a complaint made.” This statement comes up time and time again by the Planning Department. Many of these “situations” or “occurrences” warranting an investigation go unreported or no complaint being made. Take for example these bunk houses – they will be out of public view, in an area the general public will not be allowed so how is making a specific complaint possible? How can anyone prove a bunk house has been rented out to a large group for a party? Yes, we have to rely on the integrity of the business with these bunk houses but we all know how rules can be bent.

    There have been similar situations where complaints cannot be made as the offense is taking place in a “gated” or no access area such as a trailer park or tourist area. The community knows it is happening but can’t get pictures or details to make a detailed complaint as they are not allowed physical access. I’m not sure what the right solution is but there has to be a better way of monitoring.

    Looking forward to seeing how this one unfolds

  3. Daniel says:

    Have businesses thought about paying people more? A livable wage solves a number of challenges.

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