A rental licence provides the City with a tool which, used correctly, will not penalize responsible property owners but will ensure that there is a level playing field for renters and neighbourhoods in that all properties will meet the same standards.
By Ira Rosen
Published September 17, 2014
Several years ago, I was watching, with concern, the neighbourhood where I live rapidly change from a family-rich environment to a predominantly student-based area.
If you have lived in the area your entire life you would know that although there have been some rewards with the increase in student population there have also been some unfortunate outcomes including behavior related issues like noise disturbances, visual degradation to many properties as well as safety related concerns.
Instead of just filing complaints and expecting someone else to do the work, I took action and became more engaged in my community by taking my first step into the public arena almost a decade ago as a founding member of the "Westdale Heritage Housing Action Committee."
This group's mission was to determine if there was value in having "Westdale proper" designated as a heritage site, thereby stemming the growth of "monster" student houses in the area. After a year, this group presented their recommendation to the Ward 1 Councillor; there was no clear mandate to move forward and therefore the committee disbanded.
My next step was to join the Ainslie Wood-Westdale Community Association (AWWCA). We have focused our attention on trying different ways to deal with the issues around rental conversions. I worked closely with Bylaw representatives as well as the Hamilton Police Services and we carefully monitored other communities who were also trying to find ways to deal with similar issues.
During my time with the AWWCA, there have been many improvements. Both Bylaw and Police became more proactive when dealing with unwanted behavior and McMaster University hired two additional Police Officers to monitor the area during peak times.
Upon the request of our Ward 1 Councillor, I was asked to participate as a member of the Liaison Committee for a Rental Housing Licence Bylaw. I learned a great deal from that experience, including that there are many subtle nuances that must be addressed when creating such a bylaw.
We learned that several communities were working on similar bylaws and they were invited to our Committee to share their ideas and proposals. Each community ended up with a slightly different version of a rental licence; some specific to certain areas and some citywide.
One of the concerns when dealing with such a licence is to ensure that you are not targeting one specific group, e.g. students, because this could be seen as a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in specific social areas such as jobs, housing, services, facilities, and contracts or agreements.
This was one of the primary reasons why the City of Hamilton Rental Housing licence proposal [PDF] was citywide.
The proposal was turned down as not all of the wards were having the same issues and many were concerned that a citywide bylaw could add to renters' costs, and this could affect many low income families. Due to the idea of limiting the amount of room in a residence, this could affect many existing rentals, possibly leaving some renters with reduced options.
Although in the past we did have issues regarding a small percentage of students, my primary issue and those of many of the permanent residents of the Ward is with absentee landlords, i.e. property owners who don't even live in the community and negligent property management firms who have no investment in our communities.
To address such situations, a rental licence can be designed to include a wide variety of conditions like a yard maintenance plan, a waste management plan, a snow removal plan and most importantly, access to the home by City Inspectors to ensure safety and building standards are being adhered to.
Clearly, the need to create a licence is of paramount importance. However, we must be very careful how we go about it. By proposing a pilot project, we have the opportunity to determine all the resulting factors and nothing is permanently affected.
Targeting the area most affected by the issue will give us the best results to work with, e.g. targeting an area where the rentals are being used by a cross-section of renters other than students only; we eliminate the possibility of violating the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Moving forward, I believe we will have the greatest success by proposing a two-year pilot project focused on the Ainslie Wood community. In targeting this area, we will not require a high volume of staff - perhaps one full-time Inspector - and there are many who rent in the area who are not students, ensuring a non-targeted market segment.
Finally, the importance of a rental licence lies in that it provides the City with a tool which, if used correctly, will not penalize responsible property owners but will ensure that there is a level playing field for renters and neighbourhoods in that all properties will meet the same standards.
By doing so, permanent residence will feel a sense of fairness and students will not be forced to live in sub standard conditions.
Raise the Hammer has an open call to candidates for the upcoming municipal election to submit opinion articles for publication. We will publish any submission that meets our submission guidelines.
You must be logged in to comment.