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Victoria files court petition to stop short-term rental operator

The business provides hosting services for short-term rentals, but city says the operation violates bylaws
Amala Vacation Rental Solutions is expected to close in August due to new provincial rules limiting short-term rentals that went into effect May 1, says company co-owner Angela Mason.

The City of Victoria filed four petitions in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday (June 12) aiming to essentially shut down a company that manages short-term rentals in the downtown core.

Amala Vacation Rental Solutions and its owners Angela Mason and Ryan Sawatzky have been at loggerheads with the city since 2020 over alleged bylaw violations, according to the filing.

And new provincial restrictions on short-term rentals that went into effect on May 1 mean the majority of Amala's operations could now potentially constitute violations. These new rules limit short-term rentals to a host's principal residence and one secondary suite, restrictions Mason said will likely put her out of business.

She filed a lawsuit in April with the help of the West Coast Association for Property Rights to try to fight the new rules. However, the bylaws Amala is alleged by the city to have violated in this case pre-date these regulations.

Amala provides a range of services for owners of apartments who want to rent out their places on platforms such as AirBnB, but avoid day-to-day management. This includes cleaning and client communication, as well as providing a place to check in at an "AirLobby" storefront in Victoria's Chinatown neighbourhood.

Wednesday's court filing seeks injunctions preventing the business from "causing or permitting" any property within Victoria from being used for or advertised for short-term rental accomodation contrary to local bylaws.

In an emailed response to questions from Black Press Media — she said she was out town and was unable to talk on the phone — Mason said she has yet to be officially served this petition and has not had a chance to review it with her lawyer. She did say she intends to contest it in court.

The four individual petitions each name Amala and its owners, as well as the individual property owners.

All four of the apartments listed in the petition are within a three-block radius of the AirLobby. Mason says two of those apartments are still being managed by Amala and have the proper licensing, while the other two have already been returned to their owners. 

The petition seeks a broad injunction against Amala's operations, but also specific injunctions preventing each of four individual properties from being used as short-term rentals contrary to city bylaw. 

The city is also seeking a two-year standing authorization to conduct checks of the units within 24 hours of notifying the owners.

The petition alleges that the city has tried since 2020 to "educate" Amala's owners about the the legal requirements for short-term rentals in Victoria, including stipulation there must be proper business licences attached to the units.

The legal filing says that eventually 14 violation tickets were issued to Amala, and that Mason and Sawatzky signed a declaration admitting guilt and agreeing to refrain from future bylaw breaches.

She questions the way these previous interactions with the city were being characterized.

"We have done nothing wrong; we have played by their rules, and this ultimately feels retaliatory from a city department that has a history of harassment and bullying lawfully operating business owners," Mason wrote.

Mason contends that her company has been trying to educate the city about how the short-term rental industry works.

"Our intent has always been to raise the standard in the industry and collaborate with all the players (including the city) to make it a more sustainable and respected sector, unfortunately bylaw has only been interested in conflict," she wrote. 

Asked for a comment on the filing, a spokesperson for the City of Victoria wrote in an email "The petitions speak for themselves."

Regardless of the petitions filed by the city, Mason says Amala's future comes down to what happens with the lawsuit she filed against the province in April.

"There is a 'for lease' sign in our window at AirLobby and if unsuccessful in the upcoming case before the Supreme Court of B.C. we will be closing our doors permanently in August 2024," Mason wrote.


About the Author: Mark Page

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