By Laura Mueller
Requiring homeowners who want to rent out rooms near Algonquin College to buy a license might help alleviate student-housing problems, said Coun. Rick Chiarelli.
At a meeting on June 19 of the community and protective services committee, the College Ward councillor will ask city staff to look into possible licensing schemes for landlords who want to rent out three or four rooms in their homes.
The goal is to prevent illegal conversions of single-family homes into mini-apartments. It's not focused on reducing the number of rental units, but rather on preventing structural changes to homes that change the fabric of the neighbourhoods, Chiarelli said.
"The only additional restriction is the units that are there illegally," Chiarelli said.
"Our communities don't want Ryan Farm, Cityview and Bellaire to become what Sandy Hill became when it was at its worst," Chiarelli said.
The councillor said the community has been discussing the problems with illegal conversions for six years and recent Supreme Court decisions in favour of the municipalities of Waterloo and Oshawa, which created licenses for rental housing in specifically defined areas seemed to offer an appropriate solution. Chiarelli's motion, which would need to gain the committee's approval, will ask staff to look at any solutions that have been used elsewhere in Ontario, but he has a specific focus on licensing. It would also ensure the issue is brought up at a meeting of the provincial Urban Municipal Law Enforcement Network.
"We zoomed in on some sort of control that would let officials get access to the building to determine if the law is being broken," Chiarelli said. "Right now, there are a number of cases where everyone knows the law is being broken, but we have to wait for the opportunity to be able to look."
His office gets reports about possible illegal rental conversions every week, he said.
Right now, it's difficult for bylaw officers to enforce the zoning that restricts the number of units that can be rented out. There needs to be "specific evidence" of the violation such as a document, Chiarelli said.
"It can't just be someone saying 'I know they have 10 units rented out,'" he said. "It takes bylaw officers months and months and months of work to be able to gather that."
Under his proposed scheme, if landlords attempt to rent out rooms illegally without a license and the city is alerted, it would trigger an inspection in order to begin the process of obtaining a license. That inspection of illegally converted dwellings wouldn't be allowed now, Chiarelli said.
Chad Rollins of Action Sandy Hill said he didn't see the harm in asking city staff to research the possibility of licensing room rentals - the community association and nine other community groups called for just that in a letter sent to Mayor Jim Watson and the planning committee.
But Rollins wondered if limiting a potential solution to the neighbourhoods surrounding Algonquin College was an equitable approach. "If there are multiple areas of the city having the same problem, then such a solution shouldn't be confined to just one of those areas," Rollins said.
Chiarelli said the licensing idea "might be picked up" for other areas in the city, but he's focused on the area around the college.
"We don't want licensing across the entire city. We don't want licensing of all landlords," Chiarelli said. "It's targeting certain areas that have the increased calls about violations."
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said it would make more sense to treat every area the same unless a solution - whether it's a license or another option - was just being tested.
"Obviously we'd prefer to bring a model that works citywide ... but if it needs to be piloted, it might need to be brought to a specific community," he said.
Fleury said bringing the discussion of options for tackling student housing issues into the public realm isn't a bad idea, but he said he'd have to see the details of a licensing scheme before weighing in on whether he would support it for his area.
He said the review might come up with other solutions that are easier or more relevant than licensing. Fleury said he'd prefer something that could improve living conditions for students. Chiarelli said adding a license would actually make it easier for homeowners who aren't familiar with the specifications needed in order to rent out rooms. There are about 2,000 homes in the area that could be covered by the new licensing scheme and Chiarelli estimated 30 to 40 per cent of those homeowners would like to rent out a room.
There could be an agreement with Algonquin College that would see inspected and licensed units - and only those units - listed on the college's off-campus housing registry.
Creating a new license would create more work for the bylaw department, Chiarelli said, but in theory the licenses would pay for the program. Chiarelli suggested the licenses could cost between $40 and $100.