London Free Press: Politicians mull licensing apartment, townhouse rentals amid pushback

Posted March 3, 2021

From a mouse infestation to an apartment without heat, Londoners shared their housing trials as city politicians debated three new or tightened bylaws to crack down on unfit units at a marathon meeting Tuesday night.
 
The rules were dubbed “Orwellian” by a landlord association that accused city hall of wading into “authoritarian regulatory regime” by considering broader rental licensing rules.
 
Despite the backlash, council’s community and protective services committee recommended staff report back on licensing apartment and townhouse rentals. The committee also endorsed updates to London’s vacant building and property standards bylaws to better address substandard housing — both would give bylaw officers the ability to lay $400 fines for each violation — plus a new task force to bring together landlords, tenants and advocates.
 
“The burden right now is on tenants to identify the issues, talk to their landlords, get them resolved,” committee chair and Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer said.
 
“We have a lot of renters in the city of London, 40 per cent of Londoners are renting.”
 
London is home to both great and problematic landlords, Helmer said.
 
A slew of renters, many working with tenant-advocacy group ACORN, told politicians about troubles with their units, including bed bugs, cockroaches and rodents, flooding, and troublesome heating systems.
 
“This doesn’t apply to every single landlord in the city,” Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga said of the need for tighter rules, adding “we cannot pretend the issue is not there.”
 
Kayabaga and Coun. Mo Salih pushed to expand rental licensing to all units, regardless of type, proactively inspect rentals, and devise a system for tenants to report housing complaints without facing retaliation.
 
City hall’s bylaw boss Orest Katolyk said an anonymous tipline is unrealistic, because when bylaw officers follow up with a landlord, it will be clear that complaints were filed by the tenant in a particular unit.
 
The London Property Management Association pushed back against the councillors’ proposals through its lawyer Joseph Hoffer.
 
“The Orwellian strategies proposed by them to address the allegations, should not form the basis for an overhaul of the landlord licensing by-law,” he wrote in a letter to council.
 
“To create a massive bureaucracy with additional costs passed on to tenants amounts to unnecessary overregulation in an effort to find a few ‘bad apples,’ assuming they are out there.”
 
Coun. Shawn Lewis, who suggested the idea of the tenant-landlord task force, said politicians have to be wary of the price tag. Inspecting all units that are currently exempt from rental licensing would require 37 new bylaw officers at a cost of $3 million, Katolyk said.
 
 
And all the protections sought by politicians won’t mean much unless they come with stronger enforcement by city hall, LifeSpin, an anti-poverty agency in Old East Village that serves low-income people, said Tuesday.
 
“They’re getting the idea that you’re not going to enforce the rules that are on the books,” said a tenant named Jody.
 
Katolyk confirmed that inspectors and bylaw officers are not entering units amid the pandemic except for the most extreme “life safety” issues, but urged Tuesday’s speakers to file complaints with the enforcement office.
 
Changes to the vacant building and property standards bylaw, and the push for a wider licensing bylaw, will go to council for final approval later this month.
 
 
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Article by Megan Stacey for the London Free Press

 

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