Soon I will need your help to get Council to approve my proposed legislation to protect the character of our communities against illegal rooming houses. We want to preserve the character of our neighbourhoods because we do not want City View, Ryan Farm, Bel Air, Centrepointe or Crestview to become another Sandy Hill (in terms of improper conversions, noise and property standards violations, etc).
We need this new legislation because, while the rules we have now are great, it is extremely difficult for By-law officers to enforce them or to charge violators. Those who operate illegal rooming houses rely upon the inability to enforce in order to carry on their illegal activities.
My proposed legislation will enable officers to enforce the law and protect the character of our neighbourhoods.
It boils down to this: In order to lay a charge, officers must be able to see that more than three rooms have been rented out and/or other unsafe conditions exist. To do this, they must have access to the house. But they cannot gain access to the house without either a search warrant or some other legal right.
The legislation I am proposing would require those renting out homes to permit an inspection, if requested, in exchange for permission to rent out one, two or three rooms. The inspections can be to ensure basic safety conditions exist, including properly functioning smoke alarms, escape routes, etc. In the course of that brief inspection, if firefighters (or other inspectors) discover that more than three rooms are being rented out, this would constitute the proof that can be used by officers to enable enforcement.
We do not want the character of our neighbourhoods forever altered by landlords physically altering “single family homes” and turning them into mini-apartment buildings. This happened in Sandy Hill and it happened in a number of cities throughout Ontario, so we know it can happen here if we do not act.
This year, I was able to work with staff and the Chair of Community and Protective Services, to secure $300,000 to develop proposals and regulations to enable this to be dealt with.
As challenging as this will be, this is the second step in a two step process. The first step happened on May 22nd when I supported laying the foundation by moving amendments to an omnibus measure to align and clean up definitions within our zoning by-law. Now that this is done, we can make our case for my proposal, which will enable law enforcement to gain access to illegal rooming houses to secure the proof that we need. My proposal would only permit the rental of 1, 2 or 3 rooms in a single family home in a tight area, comprised of the neighbourhoods around Algonquin College. By-law officers would be empowered to enforce against those renting out more than three rooms and operating illegal rooming houses. The solution I am proposing has worked in other cities and it has solved the problem where it has been implemented.
But this will not be easy and we anticipate significant opposition to the proposed legislation.
If you would like to help us get this to pass, please contact my office at 613-580-2478 so that we can put you on the list and keep you informed.
In developing solutions to this problem, I personally went to various municipalities in Ontario, including Waterloo, Oshawa and Kitchener where they have successfully handled similar issues. I spoke with bureaucrats and politicians on all sides of the issue and discovered a reliable solution. The successful cities all followed the same basic formula and it worked. After presenting my research at a jam-packed public meeting in our community, I found that the residents present (mainly from Ryan Farm, City View and some from Bel-Air and Crestview) preferred the Oshawa model. That model utilizes a simple system which requires those who want to rent rooms in their homes to agree to a possible inspection, produce a maintenance plan (ie explain how the grass will be cut and the snow will be shoveled) and a parking plan (explaining how the cars owned by room renters can be accommodated). This system has proven to be a boon to those renting out rooms since, when students etc. see that the particular house is the safer choice, they go to those homes.
In all of the cities that have adopted the kind of solution I am proposing, noise and property standards infractions went down, resulting in far fewer neighbourhood complaints to By-law.
I brought this proposal to the city in 2015. However, it was deferred to 2017 while departmental resources were diverted to the taxi/uber issue. Council agreed to isolate $300,000 for a project that will be used to draft the proposals and potential wordings. Also, this timing means that my residential room rental business by-law will be handled at the same time and within the same project that will create “Airbnb” regulations.
August 1st our new tax on Airbnbs went into effect as an additional step toward preventing those operations from evading the requirements of our laws against illegal rooming houses and from squirrelling around rules and responsibilities that have successfully governed regular residentially run Bed and Breakfasts for decades.
The new 4% tax on Airbnb rentals will also drive home the point that the law will apply to everybody (all hotels and bed and breakfasts pay the fee).