Posted September 18, 2020
Sixty giant paper cockroaches decorated the front lawn of Ottawa City Hall on August 26, just before City Council passed new rules protecting tenants.
They were a reminder to councillors of the importance of the changes, which included a new Rental Housing Property Management Bylaw, and new pest and vermin control regulations. Ottawa ACORN, an advocacy group supporting low- and moderate-income families, organized the demonstration to support the bylaw and call for further changes.
It was the culmination of a several-years-long campaign by the group against substandard housing and for healthy homes, which included doorknocking in low income neighbourhoods, organizing tenant meetings, and organizing rallies outside of poorly-maintained buildings and at City Hall.
Landlords must now respond within 24 hours to issues that would make an apartment uninhabitable, such as the loss of vital services or security issues. They must also have a formal process for managing all tenant service requests. They must let tenants know in writing where and how to contact the landlord with problems; how to complain to the city if the landlord doesn’t fix a problem; and the location and use of fire safety equipment, garbage and recycling, and parking spaces.
Edward Roué, a downtown renter who belongs to ACORN’s central Ottawa chapter, said that having this extra information and better communication would have helped him. In his very first apartment, for example, his bathtub was badly damaged, but he wasn’t aware that the landlord was responsible for fixing it. He’s also had problems with his current landlord in terms of having a clear paper trail to ensure that reported maintenance issues are actually fixed, or getting consistent notifications of power outages or when fixes would be made.
“I think this will help clear up a lot of confusion. It’s mainly an issue of ensuring that the tenants are aware of what rights they have and what responsibilities their landlords have, which, I feel prior to this was not something that everyone knew. It will make it easier for tenants to report issues to their landlords and, in extremis, the city, Roué said.
“The standards that are set out in these bylaws are standards that every landlord should meet as a matter of course.”
For buildings with at least 10 units or three storeys, landlords must develop and maintain a capital maintenance plan to ensure the continued reliability and safety of critical services such as elevators, electrical and plumbing systems, and fire escapes. Roué said this would be useful in older rental buildings in Centretown.
Twenty-three percent of city service requests from rental housing involve pests such as cockroaches, bed bugs, or ants, and a further nine percent involve vermin such as rats, mice, squirrels, and raccoons. The new regulations will require that Integrated Pest Management be implemented in all rental housing.
Landlords will be expected to regularly schedule preventative inspections for pests, provide information to tenants on how to prevent infestations, and develop treatment plans for infestations. The system also specifies how suspected infestations are to be reported, how tenants will be notified of an outbreak, and how they will be instructed about treating the infestations, including how to prepare the unit for treatments and post-treatment instructions.
Tenants must keep their units clean, report any pests or conditions encouraging pests to the landlord, follow instructions for treating infestations, and treat their pets for fleas, ticks, or other pests.
Roué felt the onus with pest management should be more on the landlord. ACORN had pushed for clearer deadlines for landlords to address pest infestations, and a requirement for landlords to use licensed exterminators, rather than handling outbreaks themselves.
The staff report on the pest regulations described them as a “nuanced standard.” Roué was not happy with giving this leeway to landlords: “having that sort of wiggle room whereby a landlord could decide that an infestation is not serious enough to require addressing, that’s rather troubling, especially that if you don’t address an infestation early enough it can require more extreme measures.
“It’s a step in the right direction. It will lead to bettermaintained and more livable apartments and houses. A lot of what’s in these bylaws is things that ACORN has been fighting for for quite some time, although it does fall short of what we were hoping for,”
The group had also been pushing for a landlord registration system, like RentSafeTO in Toronto. A trial of this system had been recommended in a 2019 consultant’s report to the city of Ottawa, Roué said.
The bylaw will come into effect in August 2021. Ottawa ACORN had pushed for it to be implemented starting November 30. “In the context of a pandemic, where pretty much everyone is spending more time inside, I think the sooner we can get this system up and running the better. Tenants are already facing enough stressors without having to deal with a potential infestation of cockroaches or bedbugs.”
Article by Allayne McGregor for The Centretown Buzz