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City-wide rental licensing idea quashed

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A move that was previously heralded by tenant advocates is now being abandoned by Oshawa city council.

During a special meeting of council to receive the 2018 operating budget, an item for council’s consideration was the $300,000 it would cost to hire a consultant in order to look into expanding Oshawa’s Residential Rental Housing Licensing (RRHL) system across the entire city. The idea was suggested by tenant advocates and members of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) earlier this year.

However, in a motion from Councillor Rick Kerr, the newly named chair of the corporate services committee, seconded by Councillor Gail Bates, the idea was pushed aside in favour of a project similar to what council ran this year that saw staff proactively inspect a trio of problematic apartments in order to identify issues with property standards and fire code violations.

That proactive apartment blitz was, in fact, a kind of compromise for tenants ahead of any future discussions on the RRHL expansion, now, Kerr says it’s clear that the proactive inspections are the solution in itself.

For that reason, Kerr’s motion suggested that council, instead of pursuing the RRHL expansion, have staff be directed to hold two annual “building audit projects”. Kerr says the cost of the audits, which was stated to be approximately $4,000 for the initial pilot project, was a much better path forward than spending $300,000 on a consultant.

“We don’t need to go that far that fast,” he said. “We could move those (audits) to take a look at other parts of the city and we can, in fact, accomplish what we need to do, which is provide support for our tenants and landlords…within the current resources that we have.”

In the original iteration, the proactive inspections took place at 275 Wentworth Street East, 155 King Street East, and 222 Nonquon Road. Each of these buildings sits in a priority area identified under the Region of Durham’s Health Neighbourhoods Mapping System as having serious deficiencies related to health and wellness of the individuals living there.

“We can’t allow this program to disappear in any way, it was a must-do initiative,” Bates says, noting the future audits could be randomly completed or be done based on the number of complaints received. “It’s the best thing for our city.”

However, not all councillors saw the idea as a good one, with Councillor Doug Sanders speaking out against completely scrapping the RRHL expansion idea.

“I’m not opposed to having inspections on any of these buildings,” he said, noting his fears that under a limited number of audits, smaller builders could be left out of the process. “We can’t have that, that’s why I think we need to look across the whole city.”

Instead, Sanders suggested that council could perhaps take the $300,000 slated for a consultant and use that as a budget for inspections, which at $4,000 apiece, could see many more buildings being inspected.

“I’m thinking that’s an effective use of taxpayers money,” he said.

Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, the former chair of the committee was away on medicial leave when the motions were brought forward and had strong words for her fellow councillors.

“This in no way helps the renters in the city,” she tells The Oshawa Express. “And this proves that council only cares about the bottom line and not residents.”

Following discussion, Kerr’s motion carried with only Councillors Sanders and John Neal voting against it.

Councillors McQuaid-England and John Shields were absent from the meeting.