Big changes proposed to rental housing rules
Wednesday, August 4, 20102 Comments
A report released by the City of Guelph Friday proposed new bylaws and licensing requirements that would restrict the number o
A report released by the City of Guelph Friday proposed new bylaws and licensing requirements that would restrict the number of rooms and concentration of certain kinds of housing.
A neighbourhood group applauded the new rules, but some groups warned it could result in a shortage of affordable rental housing, particularly for students.
Under proposed changes, properties with 5 or more rooms, known as lodging houses, would be subject to new licensing requirements that would open the door to regular inspections and require a landlord or on-site manager to live on the property.
New zoning by-laws would also reduce the maximum number of rooms allowed in a lodging house from twelve to eight, and restrict the property to having one kitchen.
Two-unit properties, such as homes with separate accessory apartments, would be subject to similar licensing requirements as lodging houses, and would be limited to renting out a maximum four rooms in the house.
Additionally, semi-detached homes would no longer be permitted to have accessory apartments.
The report also recommended closing a loophole that allowed landlords to place six people in a two-unit home without registering it as a lodging house – by having a four-room residence upstairs and a separate, two-room accessory apartment downstairs.
So-called “four up, two down” rental properties would instead be treated like lodging houses under proposed zoning by-laws, with a minimum separation distance of 100 meters between such properties.
The licensing requirements for two-unit houses would be retroactive, meaning owners would have to reduce the number of tenants to in order comply with the new rules.
Ward 5 Councillor Leanne Piper said reducing the intensity of common types of rental housing would help maintain a “healthy mix” of different properties in neighbourhoods around the university.
“The city recognizes that rental housing is an important part of the composition of neighbourhoods. But we need to have balance,” Piper explained.
Piper said that By-law enforcement would also be ramped up to ensure compliance with existing rules, while provincial laws around licensing would allow the city to levy fines immediately for non-compliance and safety violations.
According to the city's report, there are an estimated 1,500 two-unit rental houses and 53 lodging houses legally registered in Guelph.
Speakers debate "destablization," rental costs
More than a dozen speakers gave their input on the recommendations at a Planning, Engineering and Environmental Services meeting held Tuesday.
Daphne Wainman Wood, Vice-President of the Old University Residents Association, called the proposal “a step in the right direction” but said more needed to be done to address the “destabilization” of neighbourhoods around the University of Guelph.
Neighbourhood groups in Ward 5, home to an estimated 80 per cent of legally registered lodging houses, have long complained that renters were turning their streets into noisy “student ghettos” and that absentee landlords were failing to maintain their premises.
Wainman Wood pointed out that under the proposed legislation, lodging houses and two-unit rental have different separation requirements, making it possible to have alternating lodging houses and two-unit houses every 50 metres.
“In the Old University neighbourhood, that essentially means that every second house could be either a lodging house or a two-unit rental house,” she said. “Additional disincentives would be required.”
She asked council to require a separation distance of 100 metres between either type of property.
She also urged council maintain the current moratorium on new lodging houses and accessory apartments until both the licensing and zoning changes have been approved.
Donna Haley, owner of Haley Property Management, said the legislation unfairly vilifies landlords and tenants, who are largely students.
“Wherever the phrase 'shared rental housing' appears in any of the documents and reports, let's be clear that it is really saying 'student housing',” Haley said.
Haley pointed to figures in city’s report, which found that legal shared rental housing accounted for two per cent of zoning complaints, five per cent of property standards complaints and eight per cent of noise complaints in 2009.
The statistics don’t support the claim that neighbourhoods are being destabilized by “safe and affordable rental housing,” said Haley, adding that the city has so far failed to crack down on landlords who rent out illegal or unsafe dwellings.
Hailey warned that the changes force landlords to board up rooms that were previously permitted in two-unit houses, leading to a shortage of rental units in the city and higher rent prices.
Jane Londerville, Chair of the Guelph Wellington Housing Committee, said she too had concerns about the content of the report.
Londeville, who took part in a consultative process on rental housing with the city, said the legislation seemed “rushed” and that the consequences of imposing restrictions needed to be carefully weighed.
She pointed out that many homeowners rely on revenue from accessory apartments to afford their homes, which actually has a “stabilizing” effect on neighbourhoods in Guelph.
“Restricting this ability by licensing or putting minimum separation distances between units is likely to have the effect of driving this activity underground,” she said.
“We don’t want to return to the days of unsafe, illegal rental options before accessory apartments were added to the city’s bylaws.”
Council should wait until students return in the fall to debate the legislation, urged Anastasia Zavarella, Local Affairs Commissioner with the Central Student Association.
“We're members of this community... It’s only fair that we’re given a chance to speak with our fullest voice on this issue,” Zavarella said.
Zoning by-laws are scheduled to be debated at the August 30th council meeting, while a licensing program would need to be approved as part of the 2011 budget deliberations, according to the report.