Debate over potential licensing by-law continues
On of Nov. 27, the City of Hamilton will be releasing its recommendations for a new housing by-law. While the housing rental by-law is not specifically aimed at targeting students, potential changes include the introduction of a $150 licensing fee, a property standards checklist and a six-person occupancy limit.
These recommendations come after months of consultation between City officials, landlords and the McMaster Students Union. Councilor Brian McHattie spoke to The Silhouette in September and reiterated that the introduction of a licensing fee would guarantee higher property standards and hold landlords accountable to providing safe housing.
“The focus is safe housing. We have unsafe and unpalatable housing across the city,” said McHattie.
However, landlord associations, such as the Hamilton and District Apartment Association (HDAA), have spoken out against the rental licensing costs.
Arun Pathak, President of HDAA, told The Hamilton Spectator on Nov. 7 that the City is not using all of its current tools to crack down on substandard rental units.
In particular, Pathak highlighted Project Compliance, which has seen municipal by-law enforcement officers cracking down on illegal rental units since 2010.
Project Compliance is a pilot project that targeted specific wards, including Ward 1, which includes Westdale.
The MSU issued a press release to alert students to these changes on Nov. 20. Additionally, they have created an online survey for students to list their preferences when it comes to cost of rent, quality of rental property and number of occupants in the rental property.
One third-year Social Sciences student has already been impacted by the controversy surrounding the proposed changes.
This student had been in communication with their landlord and was made aware that a licensing fee was potentially being introduced. The landlord told the student that she would be taking locks off the doors in the rental property and trying to put all the tenants on one lease for the next year, so that the rental property could be classified as a “family dwelling unit” and therefore not be subject to the licensing fee by-law.
In response to this, the student told the Silhouette that he strongly favoured the City licensing and more careful regulation of landlords and rental properties. He has also been in contact with Councillor McHattie’s Office.
While property standards are one part of the controversy, students could also incur additional costs. Currently, the City appears to be setting the fee at $150 per year. The concern is that this cost could be downloaded to students.
Huzaifa Saeed, MSU VP Education, spoke to the Sil in September, stating, “From one angle…this is a good deal for students. This would avoid horror stories with absentee lanlords. From an economic standpoint…what would this do for affordability of rental housing?”
While Hamilton appears to be pursuing the $150 fee, other cities, such as North Bay and Oshawa, have set prohibitively high fees of $300 and $500 respectively.
Both North Bay and Oshawa have also come under fire from the Ontario Human Rights Commission for targeting students in their by-laws and therefore discriminating specifically against student rentals.
Councillor McHattie told The Spectator that he is committed to keeping licensing fees low. The MSU has also continued to be involved in consultations with the City in order to advocate for student interests.