New plans for rental housing may affect students

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In a meeting of the St. Catharines city council, a recommendation was brought forward from the Planning & Building Services committee to introduce a new bylaw. The draft of the new bylaw, which has yet to be approved by council, would regulate “residential rental dwellings with four or less units.” Work was also done to make sure the new bylaw would be consistent with recent moves from Thorold city council on the issue of rental housing.

The proposed bylaw will create a licensing system where owners of rental businesses will have to apply for a license to the Director of Planning and Building Services of St. Catharines. All who intend to hold a license would have to be at least 18 years of age, complete an application, provide proof of building ownership and pay a licensing fee. The city and its municipal officers will be allowed to carry out inspections “at any reasonable time” to make sure the bylaw is being complied with.

The proposal refers back to the city of Oshawa, which was one of the first cities in the province to introduce a similar system. According to the report, Oshawa has “an annual license fee of $575 and … employs a unique demerit point system based on by-law infractions, noise, property standards, nuisance, and waste and only applies to a specific area near post-secondary educational institutions.”

However, it was noted Oshawa’s reforms were implemented before the release of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s report “Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing”. Most residential bylaws in the province are based on Oshawa’s original draft.

The proposed bylaw tabled by St. Catharines city council includes a 13-point plan to follow along with the guidelines in the Human Rights Commission report. In fact, the report specifically notes that having the by-law “pertain to a specific part of the City would likely result in an objection by the OHRC.”

The recommendation details some of the background that went into planning the new changes. In September 2017, council met and passed a motion that included the following language: “The number of student rentals in the city has increased in residential neighbourhoods causing concern about housing safety, noise, nuisance parties and quality of life for residents … student parties and gatherings have been growing in size and frequency, causing disruption, litter and damage to neighbourhoods.”

Thorold made a similar move last November, passing rental housing legislation that includes a licensing charge of $250 and creating bylaw officers to enforce regulations on the books. Thorold residents had long been concerned about the effect rental properties, particularly student houses, had on their neighbourhoods.

On Winterberry Boulevard in September, Thorold homeowners took videos of a party that gathered more than 500 students to a single house. A Facebook page entitled ‘Thorold—A City Being Destroyed by Students’ was created in response to the actions of Brock renters, which has posted inflammatory content about the Brock community and encouraged residents to take legislative action against them.

Due to the amount of rental properties in the city (close to 7,500), enacting the new bylaw would require seven enforcement officers, a licensing coordinator, and two fire inspectors.

The bylaw will have to go through a public hearing process, where residents and property owners will have an opportunity to make their cases either for or against the rental licensing.

In the case of Thorold, many individuals voiced adamant opposition to the bylaw system. In a statement at Thorold city council chambers last November, Maria Rekrut, president of Niagara Real Estate Investors Association, claimed that it would “have an adverse effect on all landlords, and the tenants won’t be able to afford the rent.” Many other landlords claimed the bylaw and its associated costs would be passed along to renters, many of whom are elderly or low-income.

“Brock University and the local municipalities share a mutual interest in ensuring safe and suitable accommodations for students” Bradley Clarke, the Director of Student Life and Community Experience at Brock University said in regards to the planned bylaw.

“As such, the university will actively support efforts by the municipalities to design and implement regulatory/licensing programs for rental properties. For example, Brock would actively promote the program(s) to the landlords who advertise with our Off-Campus Living office, and would also look for meaningful ways to acknowledge and incentivize those landlords/properties that are licensed. Ideally, the Thorold and St. Catharines licensing programs would be synchronized so that it is easier to educate students and landlords.”

The bylaw is set to be open to a public hearing in a scheduled meeting of city council.

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