Posted January 9, 2019
Hamilton took the first “small” step that could ultimately license rental housing units across the city.
Councillors agreed at their Dec. 19 meeting to direct staff to draft a bylaw that would create a two-year pilot project to license landlords in wards one and eight. The report could be before the planning committee sometime this year.
City staff has stated there are between 1,500 to 2,000 low density rental units in those two wards where McMaster University and Mohawk College are located respectively.
Under the plan, recommended by the city’s rental housing subcommittee, it would impact landlords with six or fewer units, and require them to pay a $200 annual fee. The landlords would also have to provide proof of up-to-date inspections on their properties, such as electrical and fire safety.
Councillors in the past have skirted the issue about licensing rental units over the last decade but have failed to adequately address the issue for proponents of the idea. In 2013 councillors voted not to adopt a $100 licensing fee, but instead agreed to create a subcommittee to examine the issue, and they boosted the property standards enforcement program with an additional $400,000.
In February 2018 councillors agreed to consider alternative options to make apartments safer, such as offering free inspections for tenants, and creating a tenants’ and landlords’ rights and responsibilities charter.
At the time Brad Clark, who was representing the Hamilton and District Apartment Association as a consultant, urged councillors during a presentation to consider other ideas rather than impose a licensing fee. He said at the time a fee would mean a loss of about 30 per cent of the existing units in an already difficult rental market.
“What we would like is council to make a definitive decision not to license,” Clark told councillors.
Clark is now the Ward 9 councillor for Stoney Creek after winning the municipal election last October.
Licensing rental housing had been a popular campaign issue in a number of wards, especially in the downtown and on the mountain during the recent municipal election. Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson endorsed the idea, as did Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko.
Prior to council’s approval, angry landlords opposed the city’s attempts to license rental housing units.
Arun Pathak, president of the Hamilton and District Apartment Association, told the Dec. 11 planning committee meeting licensing will “increase rents.” He said the city’s rental housing subcommittee went beyond its mandate to just look at rental legislation to propose licensing.
Lucie Brusse, a Hamilton landlord, said owners of rental housing are being “vilified for making a profit on a business.”
“Please, I beg you, use the policies, bylaws, other regulations that are already in place before you put another layer of bureaucracy in place that has no proven capability of making this a success,” she said.
But Stephanie Marie Bertolo, vice-president of the McMaster Students Union, said students are forced to rent units that are unsafe.
She referred to six McMaster University students who perished due to carbon monoxide poisoning “because the detector wasn’t working.”
“It is clear the current system is not working,” she said. “Licensing will help make sure tragedy doesn’t strike Hamilton and will continue to be a safe community for all.”
Mike Wood, chair of Acorn Hamilton, supported the pilot project, but wanted the city to move faster to impose a licensing system for landlords across the city.
“It’s not exactly what we wanted, but it is a small step forward to protect tenants,” he said.
Article by Kevin Werner for Hamilton News