London Free Press: Inspections of rental properties eyed rather than licensing

Posted September 22, 2021

Tenants fighting for stronger city hall protections walked away on Tuesday evening with a win, though perhaps not the one they expected.

Instead of recommending expansion of the city’s rental licensing rules, politicians voted unanimously to ask staff to weigh up a bylaw and inspection program to ensure apartment buildings are kept in good repair.

The community and protective services committee also agreed the current city rules aren’t doing enough.

“Some landlords are very good, they really invest in their properties and look after them,” Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer, who chairs the committee, said Tuesday.

“Other landlords are extracting as much income as they possibly can, and they’re running the buildings into the ground.”

City council recently beefed up London’s property standards bylaw, adding $400 penalties for a whole host of violations, with fines doubling for repeat rule breakers. Few fines have been laid so far.

The RentSafeTO system in Toronto, which politicians named specifically as the base for a London model, includes pro-active inspections, with rental buildings that are larger than three storeys or 10 units reviewed at least once every three years. If an initial evaluation turns up issues, the entire building would be more closely audited.

“We could have an inspection regime that’s not checking every single building all the time,” Helmer said.

The committee voted 5-0 to recommend staff consider a system similar to RentSafeTO. Councillors Helmer, Steve Hillier, Shawn Lewis and Mo Salih and Mayor Ed Holder voted in favour. It goes to council Oct. 5.

Several members of the tenant advocacy group ACORN presented to politicians Tuesday night.

“Let’s do something instead of nothing. We all know it’s needed,” said Jo-Dee Phoenix, adding ACORN is looking for “accountability for all landlords.”

The London Property Management Association, a landlord group, sent a letter to politicians through its lawyer suggesting no additional city hall licences or rules are needed. Apartment units and other rentals excluded from licensing are already covered by regulations and inspections for fire, building, electrical and maintenance standards, the group wrote.

There are nearly 50,000 housing units that fall outside city hall’s current rules. But city staff warned that inspecting all those homes in order to license them would be costly, requiring another 37 bylaw officers to keep up. About 6,200 units are licensed.

Lewis said he agreed with staff that expanding those licensing rules wasn’t the way to go. But he wasn’t satisfied with the existing rulebook, either.

“I don’t think our current licensing regime is addressing some of the very serious concerns that are out there,” he said.

Lewis suggested newer apartment buildings could be exempt from frequent inspections. He said he’s still concerned about landlords passing on the costs of inspections to their tenants.

The committee also recommended moving ahead with a landlord-tenant task force in hopes of solving nagging housing issues.

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Article by Megan Stacey for the London Free Press

 

 

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