Municipal Election 2014

Why a Rental Housing Licence is so Important (Candidate Submission)

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.

In 2008 the City of Oshawa enacted their version of a Rental Housing Licence Bylaw, followed by the City of Waterloo in 2012 [PDF] and the City of London in 2013, to name a few.

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.

Ira Rosen is a candidate for Ward 1 Councillor in the 2014 municipal election. You can visit his website:


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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 17, 2014 at 11:39:33

It is not always easy to ensure demographic change happens in the best possible way for the entire community, and absentee landlords who do not maintain their properties degrade the quality of life for both their tenants and the broader community.

However, I was surprised to learn that AWWCA is not actually a neighbourhood association (like most others in Hamilton), but is an association representing only the interests of "resident home owners":

A condition of membership is:

"They own the dwelling in which they reside or they are related to the owner of the dwelling in which they reside."

It is difficult to find solutions if membership of a community association excludes much (most?) of the actual community: students and other renters (as well as landlords) are not allowed to join the association!

It might be helpful to allow any resident to join AWWCA as full voting members, as is the case for every other neighbourhood association I know of. Excluding a major portion of the community is not a good way to build good community relations and reinforces the "us versus them" dynamic.

You might find that there are many students who would be interested in helping to find solutions to your problems. (And the "property owning" requirements just seems a bit too feudal for a democratic society.)

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-09-17 11:41:00

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted September 17, 2014 at 12:52:46 in reply to Comment 104545

Not that it's any of my business what folks do in Ainslie-Woods/Westdale, but to be fair, AWWCA does have a "Friends of the AWWCA" membership category (albeit it is non-voting). This isn't necessarily off-side, any more so than having a membership fee is. Neighbourhood associations are private clubs, not representative public bodies, and are only as inclusive as they want to be. In fact exclusivity is part of the point--to advocate for the interests of a homophilic/likeminded group (i.e. invested residents) limited to a given geographic area.

Regardless, inclusiveness in these groups can't be fully judged from a review of bylaws and policies

For example, I am happy to argue that the Beasley Neighbourhood Association is one of the most inclusive NAs in Hamilton, and certainly the most inclusive group I've ever belonged to. At our meeting last week we had around 40 attendees, and almost half of them were from outside the neighbourhood (myself included), and all were welcome to contribute to and influence the discussion, if not necessarily cast a vote on matters.

See, the constitution states any adult living in Beasley is automatically a member, but to vote you have to have attended at least one previous meeting, and anyone from outside Beasley can become an associate (non-voting) member, with the provision that they can become voting members through a majority vote at our AGM.

So there's a lot of exclusive language there, but that's just part of policing boundaries, and despite the BNA having no membership fee, I would defend any NA's right to charge a nominal fee (i.e. $2, like the North End Neighbors) as a sign of commitment from the member (putting money where your mouth is).

It's the people, not the policies that will ultimately determine the inclusivity of the group. My (limited) experience with the AWWCA suggested to me that the tie that binds is a desire to protect the neighbourhood from descending into a student ghetto. Fair enough. Extending voting rights to everyone with a pulse will not likely change that, and it's not great policy anyway, even if it "feels" fair (ask the MSU, a great voice for Mac students, if they would ever extend similar membership to Westdale residents).

Groups decide their own mission and membership requirements, and if people find them exclusive, it's the perfect impetus to start a new group with a bigger tent.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 17, 2014 at 13:52:47 in reply to Comment 104547

I agree that it is hard to know what an actual association is like from the by-laws, but for an organization that bills itself as a "community association" and has as part of its mission statement "To preserve, protect and enhance the Ainslie Wood/Westdale community environment and the quality of life for all residents." it does seem a bit counter-productive to restrict membership to resident property owners.

And the problem with the "friends" category is that it sounds pretty exclusive: "The Board of Directors may approve such applications if it considers the applicant will support the aims and objectives of the Association as outlined in the AWWCA’s mission statement."

That's their prerogative as a private organization, but it would just be clearer if they called themselves a "resident property owners association" and made it clear that they are not really an organization promoting the interests of the whole community (like most neighbourhood associations aim to).

A student's union clearly promotes the interests of students, a business improvement area promotes the interests of local businesses, but a "community association" is not really the same as a "property owners association". If the McMaster Student's Union had decided to call itself the "McMaster Community Association" and claimed its mission was to improve conditions for the entire McMaster community, but only accepted students, I would also say it was exclusive and counter-productive to its mission.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-09-17 13:58:18

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted September 17, 2014 at 15:29:54

No pilot. Just do it. Other communities have piloted. $100 to license a good rental unit is nothing. The costs come in when a $100 to license a bad unit comes with fixing the place up. - Rental Property Owner who wants licensed units.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2014 at 20:56:03

I agree that neighbourhood associations are closed clubs. I have emailed to the Strathcona Neighbourhood closed club, I was told I would be invited to meetings which I was not.

How can they say they are representative of an entire neighbourhood when it is closed and you cannot even get an invite.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 18, 2014 at 11:35:40 in reply to Comment 104557

Hanlon's razor - "Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence". A bunch of unpaid volunteers slipped up and forgot to add you to their email list? Fascists, the lot of them!

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2014 at 02:29:32 in reply to Comment 104577

That was their excuse the first time. Closed club, that is clear.

I do not trust these neighbourhood associations when the small minority, speaks for the many.

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By Chris Spark (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2014 at 11:18:51

Would Mac not want to capitalize on the housing required and build more residences like Western among others have done? There is great opportunity gone to waste.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 18, 2014 at 11:39:33 in reply to Comment 104575

My understanding is taht the cheaply-run rental homes where the owner is mostly interested in the climbing price and not rents mean that rent for a room in a house in Westdale is pretty cheap. Particularly when nobody is enforcing codes and you've got 8 singles crammed into a 3 bedroom by cutting up the attic and the basement and the garage.

So when somebody builds a purpose-built rental building in Westdale for the students, they actually have trouble filling it as who can compete with illegal half-assed houses on price?

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted September 18, 2014 at 13:50:40 in reply to Comment 104578

So when somebody builds a purpose-built rental building in Westdale for the students, they actually have trouble filling it as who can compete with illegal half-assed houses on price?

That said ... there are seven private, purpose-built student-housing developments at various stages of planning right now.

What multi-unit buildings are not being filled?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 18, 2014 at 13:57:02 in reply to Comment 104585

My understanding was that the big orange building at Main and Osler (well, main and main, really) had trouble getting filled.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2014-09-18 13:57:51

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 18, 2014 at 23:03:14 in reply to Comment 104586

I don't believe it's ever been filled.

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By kerryt (registered) | Posted September 19, 2014 at 10:39:41

A neighbourhood-specific application of a rental housing licensing/regulation program is a GREAT idea! Of course, it was a great idea when Jason Allen pitched it to members of AWWCA in February; and great when it formed a core plank in his platform in Ward 1 weeks ago:

As recently as the beginning of the week, you've argued against neighbourhood-specific licensing, citing OHR legislation concerns. Jason has explained why addressing neighbourhood-specific issues is different than discriminating against student renters (for one, because the bylaw is property-centred, not tenant centred). Evidently, his argument was convincing enough to make you a fan.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 19, 2014 at 10:44:59 in reply to Comment 104617

Does city hall even allow that kind of discrimination? Or would we have to do some kind of zoning thing where we re-zone all residential single-family homes within N km of McMaster as Residential-with-special-student-neigborhood-rules?

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted September 19, 2014 at 10:54:21 in reply to Comment 104619

It wouldn't be through zoning, it would be through the business license by-law, in a similar way to what Oshawa has done. Zoning would be a nightmare. Just declaring any single-family-home in Westdale and Ainslie Wood that has been converted into rental suites as a business covered by the licensing by-law would avoid an awful lot of complication.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 19, 2014 at 11:12:56 in reply to Comment 104620

Sorry, I didn't mean that rental homes should be re-zoned... I'd explain in detail what I actually meant, but in hindsight I just realized I know so little about how zoning works I should probably quiet up.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted September 19, 2014 at 12:11:47 in reply to Comment 104622

Thanks for clarifying. :) If I read your original comment right, are you wondering if we'd need to rezone Ainslie Wood and Westdale as a Student Rental zone to permit this bylaw? If so, the answer is no, the bylaw would deal with any structure that met the criteria, that was on one of the streets named in the bylaw. And yes, Oshawa's by-law names every single street within a certain radius of Durham College UOIT.

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By AWWCA resident (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2014 at 16:19:57

The AWWCA and it's board members having been advocating for a rental license longer than Jason Allen has lived in this city

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By Connie (registered) | Posted September 23, 2014 at 08:10:27

In trying to figure out the supposed problems that create the supposed need for a rental licence, I found only this: "some unfortunate outcomes including behavior related issues like noise disturbances, visual degradation to many properties as well as safety related concerns."

We already have bylaws for property standards that are activated upon complaint. If current standards are not being sufficiently applied to rental properties, then the solution is better enforcement ... not new and redundant bylaws and associated bureaucracies, that also don't enforce bylaws properly!

Rental licences are redundant, expensive, and ridiculous.

Comment edited by grannysaga on 2014-09-23 08:15:41

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By Rent Lifer (anonymous) | Posted September 23, 2014 at 11:37:42

Whats to stop the license fees from being dumped on to he renter along with any needed improvements? Nothing. We already have an affordable housing issue. I know within 5 years since the last time I looked the average rent has gone up while the size shrank. Adding more costs will just make them even more expensive.

And how does a license work if they simply rent and not tell the city? If found and the city comes down on them who is going to be rendered homeless? Not the owner. The Renter again pays.

It seems this is more about Nimbyism than any real care for renters. Even the article talks about "undesireable" activity which is not the same as illegal.

It is natural that if you are going to have a school that the students are going to want to live close and that is Westdale for Mac students.

Maybe if more thought was given to how much people charge for rent then perhaps it would be more affordable and less cramming would occur. I don't think any student likes the idea of overcrowding a small unit but do so as they cannot afford not to.

These ideas are all coming from owners who are not facing the same challenges renters and people of limited means are, you would do better to try to come up with a solution by renters. Or better a combination of both but with equal say from all renters to find out the diverse needs and accommodate them in a safe, fair manner to all.

For so far, all I see instead are home owners trying to impose rules on how renters are "allowed" in their neighbourhood.

That being said more rules regarding properties owned by absent landlords are needed on both sides of this issue. Rules though, not fees unless they are consequences and the offending property is not allowed to raise the rent to cover them. And such items would be necessary changes not simply superficial ones to make properties look better to raise rents.

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By Adolfo (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2014 at 19:10:01

This is just discrimination pure and simple. Sub out students for poor, black, Jewish (which should be familiar to people of Westdale) or renters. It is elitist attitude being pushed by Mary Louise Piggott and Jason Allen. Shame on both of you.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 25, 2014 at 20:39:05 in reply to Comment 104863

This has nothing to do with the students and everything to do with the landlords. Landowners are failing to live up to the responsibilities of property ownership and are allowing the quality of the property to slide to unacceptable levels. The city does not have the resources to enforce all the bylaws on these rental houses, so they need licensing to

a) Pay staff to do extra enforcement and

b) Have something to revoke.

I fondly remember my undergrad, I'd never want to take away the fun of living in a student neighborhood from Mac's classes, but many people are exploiting the students to pay for their real-estate speculation at the expense of the people of Westdale (both student and homeowner) and it's ludicrous to defend them.

They brought this bylaw on themselves with every unshoveled walk, every unremoved wasp's nest or raccoon den, every rotting front porch, every fire-trap house decaying into the ground.

There are many good renters, and many bad ones who just want to speculate the market while doing as little work as possible... they could have just bought Apple shares instead of screwing up our neighbourhood. You can thank those people for this crap.

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