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Hayward: Affordable housing a priority over tourism beds

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour (File photograph)

The Government is planning a shake-up of tenancy laws to encourage landlords to rent their properties to Bermudians rather than tourists.

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, said that there needed to be a change in the mindset of landlords and that more needed to be done to make it “advantageous” for them to provide affordable housing to residents rather than holiday homes to visitors.

Mr Hayward said he recognised that there was a shortage of both affordable housing and vacation units but that the rental sector needed to be regulated “so that we don’t have a whole proliferation of vacation rentals that erode the affordable housing stock that we once relied on as a country”.

Mr Hayward also pointed out that some jurisdictions had passed legislation to restrict the number of vacation homes on the market, but drew short of saying that similar laws were in the pipeline in Bermuda.

He said: “We’re not there yet in terms of putting restrictions in place because it should be one’s personal choice.

“But of you ask me my opinion, I would prefer a Bermudian family residing in a property rather than a tourist staying there on a temporary basis.”

Last year the Government introduced a tax of up to $2,500 annually on vacation properties and argued that the fees were neither “exorbitant or prohibitive”.

Vance Campbell, who was Minister of Tourism at the time, added that the Government saw “no adverse impact on the number of vacation rentals on the market”. There are currently more than 460 Bermuda properties listed on the Airbnb vacation rental website.

Mr Hayward made his remarks at a Progressive Labour Party town-hall event in Pembroke last week.

Asked by one audience member to give his thoughts on vacation homes, Mr Hayward said: “Vacation rentals serve a purpose as it pertains to providing a greater inventory of accommodations for our tourists.

“The transition of local housing to vacation rentals has created an effect where it is contracting the supply of affordable housing.

“I think affordable housing needs to be regulated so that we don’t have a whole proliferation of vacation rentals that erode the affordable housing stock that we once relied on as a country.

“We want to increase the affordable housing stock and we also want the public to bring in some units back online that are currently in the vacation rental sector.”

The audience member hit back, claiming that property owners had been “carrying” the island’s tourism industry in the wake of a spate of hotel closures in recent years.

She also said that many homeowners were reluctant to rent out their properties to residents because they were not good tenants and would “trash the place”.

She added that she knew of several owners who opted to leave their homes empty rather than rent to Bermudians.

She said: “Until the Landlord Tenant Act has been considered in the best interests of the landlord, then you are going to have a problem with property owners.

“People should have a choice with what to do with their property.”

Mr Hayward replied: “Your experience is actually a common experience that persons are having and so we are going to reform the Landlord Tenant Act to ensure that there is an increase in the rights from both ends — there needs to be rights for the tenant as well as the landlord.

“Based off of the reduction of inventory in the private sector, that means that the Government has to step up its efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing.

“If the mindset is that Bermudians will not rent to Bermudians, there is going to be more reliance on the Government.

“What we want to do is encourage people to rent out their properties. People do have negative experiences and we want to see how we can minimise that as much as possible and promote good relations. We need to change the mindset in terms of people’s entitlement

“There are things we need to work on but we will continue to rely on the private sector for housing needs and we will ensure that we have rules in place that make it more advantageous for homeowners to receive a consistent income from renters.

“I support your autonomy to do what you feel is in your best interests but for us as an economy and country we need to ensure that we are all doing our due diligence to ensure that we have a sustainable supply of housing.

“From a general economic standpoint we all need to be rowing in the same direction.”

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Published April 24, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 25, 2024 at 8:08 am)

Hayward: Affordable housing a priority over tourism beds

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