London Free Press: Licensing all rental units in London too costly, not needed: City staff

Posted on September 20, 2021

A battle over the state of housing in London is heading back to politicians on Tuesday as city staff recommend against expanding licensing rules to cover all rental units.

Advocacy group ACORN and a pair of city councillors pushed earlier this year to license all of London’s rentals – right now, there are 47,000 apartment and townhome units exempt from licensing – and do random inspection to protect tenants.

City staff say it’s not needed, warning that 37 new bylaw officers would need to be hired to inspect all those units.

“The whole focus of this is to ensure landlords maintain safe and healthy homes,” Jo-Dee Phoenix, a leader with the London branch of ACORN, said of the push for broader rental licensing. More officers will be needed either way as new development comes online, she said.

“The civic budget has to look at the human element, the moral element, and the ethical element,” she said.

Phoenix admitted it’s clear inspecting every rental unit in the city isn’t feasible.

“We have never asked for that,” she said.

“What we have asked for is that landlords – from the small seed investor that might own an income property or two, right up to the multibillion-dollar real estate investment corporations – all follow the same rules,” Phoenix said.

ACORN wants to see yearly “audits,” a quicker inspection that would see city hall officials check out common spaces, laundry rooms, or a sampling of units in larger buildings, not a fully fledged inspection of each apartment.

Those evaluations should be made public, so Londoners have a way to gauge the upkeep and standards in an apartment building or other place before they live there, Phoenix said.

Just 6,200 rental properties are licensed in London right now, although each site could contain multiple units (such as a duplex or triplex).

Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis, a member of the community and protective services committee that will debate the recommendation on Tuesday, says he agrees with staff that London’s rental licensing doesn’t need to be expanded.

“We can’t possibly police every apartment building, every rental unit in the city on an annual basis or a random basis. We’d be frankly throwing money down the drain,” he said.

Lewis fears those costs would end up getting passed on to tenants by landlords, driving up the cost of living even more.

“We’re better off putting those resources into making sure we have good response times when complaints come in, and working with partners in the community on how to continue to address those problems,” he said.

A landlord-tenant task force is also in the works, another recommendation that goes to politicians on Tuesday.

Other housing advocates, like poverty-fighting agency LifeSpin, has said city hall should focus on enforcing its existing bylaws – including forcing property owners to fix up derelict properties or else demolish them – rather than creating new ones.

City staff report that only 10 per cent of about 45,000 property complaints received between 2015 and 2020 related to apartments and townhouse units.

Dianne Devine says she believes more regular inspections from city hall could have kept her Hamilton Road unit in liveable shape.

“They’d be held more accountable,” she said.

From a leaking roof to a rodent infestation to rotting door frames, Devine says she’s been given excuses from her out-of-town landlord since she moved in back in 2016.

Rodent nests are now affecting her health – despite hundreds spent on traps – because of a nearby furnace intake pipe that’s bringing the bacteria into her home, she said.

She worries about other tenants who haven’t had luck getting repairs done, or those who are too scared of eviction to raise concerns.

“All we’re asking is these landlords maintain our homes in the same manner they maintain their own homes. Just because someone doesn’t make as much money as you, doesn’t mean they need to live in deplorable conditions,” Phoenix said.

She said council is playing an “optics” game if it doesn’t commit to enforcing its rules and ensuring tenants are protected.

But Lewis and Phoenix agree on one thing, the fact that politicians and Londoners seem “united” in goals to improve housing and ensure people have safe places to live.

“We know what needs to be done; it’s how to get there (where we differ),” Phoenix said.

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Article by Megan Stacey for London Free Press

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