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Property owners take NDP government to court over new short-term rental rules

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A handful of members of a group of property owners from across B.C., known as the West Coast Association of Property Owners, assembled outside the B.C. Supreme Court in Victoria on Monday during a break in their court case.

The group are petitioners in a court action they’ve brought against the provincial government. They’re upset because they operated legal short-term rentals—until the NDP's new short-term rental laws came into effect last month.

“I wouldn’t have paid $200,000 more to own the property if I knew my rights were going to be taken away,” said Cynthia Werbik, a Victoria resident who’s one of the 400 petitioners in the case.

The petitioners are from across B.C., and include people who bought investments in buildings—like the Janion in Victoria—where the units were grandfathered in, allowing Airbnbs to operate. That all changed as of May 1, when in many B.C. communities short-term rentals became only allowed in one’s primary residence.

“When I did purchase the property, I was working three serving jobs, three bartending jobs, just to afford that property,” said Werbik Monday.

The group wants the court to roll back parts of the new law so they can continue with their businesses or be compensated for their losses.

“To challenge this act and find out if it’s unjust, if it’s government overreach and cancelling peoples vested rights,” elaborated the group spokesperson Orion Rodgers.

The petitioners’ lawyer, John Alexander, said the group is hoping for clarity from the courts. “Seeking declarations that the new legislation does not in fact take away the existing rights—the vested rights—to the existing operators to run their business in British Columbia,” said Alexander outside the courthouse Monday.

Asked about the court vase Monday, Premier David Eby maintained that homes are only for living in—not for investments.

“Because we do not have enough homes currently to allow people to be speculating in the residential housing market, to be converting long-term rentals into short-term rentals,” said Eby.

Werbik and her fellow petitioners acknowledge that more housing needs to be built, but argue changing the rules mid-stream is unfair to their bottom line.

“I wouldn’t have worked many jobs many hours to afford the property that I had in a legal non-conforming building,” she said.

Premier Eby said the bottom line for the province is that the prosperity of this province depends on people being able to find affordable housing for themselves and their families. “Without that, the province cannot succeed,” he added.

Who succeeds in this court case will be known soon. It’s scheduled to last five days, wrapping up on Friday.

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