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Landlord licensing expansion delayed

Staff report tells of strained budget and no staff time for planning expansion of RRHL system, council pushes for pilot project

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A lack of staff time and no available dollars are being blamed for the ousting of plans to expand the system for licensing landlords in the city, forcing that idea to be pushed to the 2018 budget.

Following concerns raised by residents and representatives of ACORN Canada, a tenant rights and social justice organization in April, the Corporate Services committee had staff look into the possibility of expanding the city’s Residential Rental Housing Licensing system (RRHL), which currently exists in the area surrounding UOIT and Durham College in Oshawa’s north end.

The system, while requiring all landlords to be registered with the city, also includes annual inspections by city staff and fire services for property standards and other municipal bylaw and fire code violations. ACORN representatives claim that the RRHL system, if expanded to other areas of the city, will help to address the “rampant neglect” in many apartments and rental accommodations.

These issues came under the microscope in 2015 when reporting in The Oshawa Express revealed the decrepit conditions in which some tenants were living in in the city’s south end. Those stories led to a tour of the building by members of council and the mayor, and following that, the city began issuing a tenant brochure to help inform tenants of their rights. However, ACORN says that’s not far enough.

“Tenant information brochures are not a substitute for adequate municipal supervision,” the letter from ACORN in response to the city report states. “The city has a responsibility to provide safe and healthy homes to all constituents.”

However, staff claim an expansion of the system would be too much for them to take on at this point.

“It would be a considerable hit on our work program,” says Jerry Conlin, the director of municipal law enforcement and licensing services.

According to the city report, the city’s ability to address all current issues would be “critically limited” if the RRHL system were to be expanded at the present time. Also, the approximately $200,000 it would cost to bring in a consultant to assist with the expansion is not budgeted for.

At the most recent meeting of the Corporate Services committee, councillors then suggested a pilot project for the expansion, using the Cedar Street and Wentworth Street corridor.  However that idea was shot down as well.

“That would still need some further assessment,” Conlin says. “It is going to be the same amount of work as a full-fledged project.”

For that reason, council have now approved a motion that will see a pilot project with proactive enforcement put in place this year, along with requirements for staff to plan for a full-fledged expansion in the 2018 budget, as well as creating a “Tenant Awareness Week” in November of this year. The motion also plans for a second release of the city’s tenant brochure and for city staff to work with the Region of Durham to conduct engagement sessions in priority neighbourhoods.

The motion directs staff to use an “inter-departmental inspection team” assigned to three apartment buildings, one in each of the priority neighbourhoods identified by the Region of Durham’s Health Neighbourhoods mapping system, those being Lakeview (Oshawa’s south end), downtown Oshawa, and Beatrice North. The three apartments have yet to be announced, however, 275 Wentworth Street West in the Lakeview neighbourhood and 304 Simcoe Street South in the downtown have both been labelled as top offenders to for city bylaws in the past.

“I think this is an important step forward for tenants in our community,” said Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, noting that the final motion is a “compromise that allows us to move forward.”

The motion carried unanimously through council

Any costs that arise as part of the project are to be reported back to the Corporate Services committee in the fall to ensure this pilot project can move ahead in November 2017.