Just like last summer, short-term rentals in cottage country are in hot demand this year as stir-crazy city residents crave a much-needed fresh air and nature fix.

But, also like last year, renting a cottage is not as simple as it once was thanks to the ongoing pandemic – even if you’re able to scoop one up on a busy booking site.

The key (frustrating) component to keep in mind in all of this is that the COVID-19 situation and its accompanying rules are constantly evolving and changing. At time of writing, it looks like Ontario’s current stay-at-home order will indeed be lifted on June 2 (though this isn't officially confirmed). But, frankly, it likely won't change much.

And, if you break the short-term rental rules – even if you’re seemingly safe from sight in the middle of nowhere – you could face a steep fine like this unfortunate group of out-of-towners. Under the stay-at-home order, gathering with people outside of your household is prohibited.

muskokaPhoto by Basil Thomas on Unsplash

In the warmer months ahead, it's likely short-term rentals will resume.

“Short-term rentals (less than 28 nights) are permitted during the summer unless the current lockdown is extended, which I’m cautiously optimistic won’t be the case,” says Maryrose Coleman of Muskoka District Rentals.

From the look of things in the meantime, however, a ban on short-term rentals will be extended until June 14, when the province plans to enter Step One of its reopening plan. In the outlines, it lists short-term rentals as being able to resume at this point (meaning, if you have a cottage booked this weekend or next, it likely won’t happen). The ban on camping has even been extended to this time as well. Sigh.

Coleman admits that the pandemic rules have been tricky to navigate for those looking to rent a cottage.

“Rentals during the pandemic have been complicated by the mixed messaging coming from the different levels of government and by the need for an extra level of cleaning between guests,” says Coleman. “For this summer, we have added fogging equipment to our cleaning protocols and we also require extra time to clean between guests.”

Cottage goers can rest assured that reputable sites have long amped up their cleaning protocols. In April 2020, Airbnb announced its Enhanced Cleaning Initiative, which includes what it bills as “the first overarching standardized protocol for cleaning and sanitization in the home-sharing industry.”

cottage insuranceCottage Above Boathouse

Depending on rules, those looking for a short-term rental may have to choose their cottage mates wisely this summer.

“The other big pandemic change for renters is the need to watch the number of unrelated people renting together,” says Coleman. “That said, for families that wish to come to cottage country, this is a great place to safely enjoy time together in the great outdoors and escape some of the stress of the past year.”

With the ever-changing situation, those looking to book a short-term rental should be well aware of the rental’s cancellation ahead of time. A reputable company like Muskoka District Rentals will clearly outline its cancellation policy online.

Finally, try to be a good human and respect the local population as much as possible. That may mean buying groceries and supplies in the city beforehand and limiting other journeys into town, or using local health providers only for emergencies.

Once you're on the dock, drink in hand, Coleman emphasizes that cottage country is a particularly safe space for people to enjoy the summer… especially for individuals may live in a condo as their primary residence, where lobbies and shared elevators are commonplace.

But, if you're going to go, just make sure you're being smart about it.

Cottage Country