Posted January 23, 2020
Veronica Gonzalez told Hamilton councillors recently that tenants have had to deal with mould, pests, appliances that don’t work, clogged ventilation systems and electrical problems in their apartments.
“We see a need for immediate attention for the safety of all people,” said Gonzalez, of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) Hamilton, who lives on the Mountain. “We need protection.”
Gonzalez was one of a number ACORN representatives who urged councillors Jan. 14 to support a motion introduced by Mountain Coun. Terry Whitehead to review the city’s existing property standards and, if necessary, strengthen the bylaw protections and enforcement for apartments and community living areas.
Mike Wood, chair of the tenant advocacy group for ACORN’s downtown branch, joined Whitehead during a news conference prior to the planning committee meeting at city hall. He said the current bylaw doesn’t include maintaining appliances, cleaning ventilation systems, fixing broken door buzzers, or even providing a mail box for tenants, which can go for months without being fixed.
He described instances where tenants have had no working stove or refrigerators and they couldn’t cook or even store their food. Wood even described an incident in which, while cooking on his stove, mice feces fell from the above ventilation.
“That is disgusting,” he said. “We need an update on our property standards so people living in rental housing are not left in unhealthy, unsafe conditions.”
Wood said while the Landlord Tenant Board can issue orders on paper to landlords to fix a problem, there is no followup to make sure the issue has been addressed. Wood also criticized the city’s property standard system where officials just make a call to the landlord or tenant to see if a problem has been fixed. If the landlord says yes, the file is closed without a visit to the apartment for verification, he added.
Wood, along with other ACORN members, said they have been fighting the city over the last few years to strengthen the property standards bylaw, and then provide enforcement.
ACORN’s request comes as the city’s affordable housing stock is under pressure, with rising rents and rental properties being difficult to find. Critics charge that property owners only improve properties to increase rents that force out existing tenants who can’t pay the higher cost.
“We need a city to protect our housing stock,” said Wood. “We need the city to protect the tenant and the vulnerable in our communities.”
Gonzalez said tenants are afraid of speaking out about any problems for fear of “repercussions.” That’s why having a tougher property standards bylaw “would protect us,” she said.
Whitehead said Hamilton “needs to stay up with the times and make sure our tenants are living in a healthy environment.”
ACORN Hamilton representatives, who were wearing red t-shirts, burst into applause after the planning community approved Whitehead’s motion in a unanimous 7-0 vote.
Councillors will vote on the recommendation at their Jan. 22 meeting.
Article by Kevin Werner for HamiltonNews.com