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'I'm still in shock': Newmarket considers Airbnb bylaw after fatal shooting

Proposed policy coming to Feb. 3 meeting, bylaw to be in place by summer
Jan. 27, 2020
Lisa Queen

Four months after a man was killed in the driveway of a Newmarket Airbnb, councillors will debate a proposed short-term rental policy at a Feb. 3 committee meeting.

While the guidelines were in the works before the shooting, the incident highlights the potential dangers of Airbnb-style properties, Mayor John Taylor said.

“Of course, having something as significant as we did have with a homicide at an Airbnb, certainly it hits home as to how much we need to engage in this issue and this review of our regulations and bylaws,” he said.

Last Oct. 4 at about 9 p.m., DeShane Taylor, 26, was gunned down and a 23-year-old female victim was injured while they sat in a car in the driveway of an Airbnb on Colter Street, in the area of Yonge Street and Mulock Drive.

The shooting came five months after Rizwaan Aboobakar Wadee, 18, was shot and killed at a May 3 prom after-party at an Airbnb in Whitchurch-Stouffville.

Joan Agius, a neighbour of the Airbnb in Newmarket, remains disturbed by the “horrible” shooting.

“I’m still in shock. I can still hear the shots that were fired. I jumped up off the couch. My husband was upstairs. I thought he fell down the stairs. Then I thought the house was falling,” she said at a town public information meeting in December about short-term rentals.

“Very scary. I’m still in shock. I have grandchildren. They visit me all the time. Do you know how shocking that was for me?”

Shortly after the shooting, Taylor, Coun. Kelly Broome, and Flynn Scott, the town’s manager of regulatory services, met with frightened and angry neighbours to discuss their concerns.

“There were a lot of people who were very upset and I would say even frightened and concerned,” Taylor said, adding the new short-term rental bylaw is expected to be in place by the summer.

“I don’t blame anybody for being concerned if they live near that occurrence. I would be very concerned, too.”

Tracy McCulloch lives in Lemar Road on the other side of town, but she’s also been plagued by problems by an Airbnb on her street.

The absentee owner leases the basement and upper level of the house as short-term rentals and the main floor to a long-term tenant, she said.

In addition to parking and garbage problems, McCulloch said her family was awakened to loud banging at 3 a.m. one night, only to discover police officers breaking down the door at the house – seeming to suggest some sort of criminal activity, she said.

“I feel unsafe. I’ve got my grandson there all the time and it makes me feel unsafe because I don’t know who my neighbours are. It’s different people every day,” she said.

“We just don’t think it’s fair. They (short-term rental owners) are making a lot of money on these homes and paying the same taxes we are. It just doesn’t seem right. There needs to be some regulations.”

There are now about 170 short-term rentals in Newmarket, including pockets concentrated around Upper Canada Mall and Southlake Regional Health Centre, Scott said.

He said that the town is looking at both the pros of short-term rentals, including the income potential for property owners, the boost to tourism and the ability for patients and visitors to rent housing near the hospital, and cons, including nuisance concerns such as parking and garbage and the potential for violence.

The town is considering a number of issues as part of its new policy, such as establishing a licensing system for short-term rental properties, using address identification software to ensure property owners register their short-term rental sites, using a demerit point system where owners would lose their license if they rack up a certain number of infractions, and setting up a 24-7 hotline for neighbours to report problems, Scott said.

“When considering short-term rentals overall, the goal is to protect neighbours and residents,” he said.

The town reports 122 residents submitted their opinions on the issue through an online survey.

Meanwhile, as Newmarket welcomes more residents and housing types, the town will have to consider whether short-term rentals should be concentrated along major corridors such as Yonge Street and Davis Drive, which will have higher-density housing, senior planner Ted Horton said.