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Trifecta of problem apartments close to being identified for pilot program

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The trio of problem apartments set to be part of a proactive inspection program with the City of Oshawa are nearly identified ahead of the program’s launch this fall.

According to Jerry Conlin, the city’s director of municipal law enforcement and licensing services (MLELS), the hope is to have the Rental Licensing Task Force get underway in September.

The task force will involve members of MLELS and Oshawa Fire Services visiting the three apartment buildings for inspections for issues related to municipal standards and fire code violations.

“Our main focus here is on life safety, and the condition of the building and then we’re going to be looking at basic standards in the building,” Conlin says, including maintenance, cleanliness, and pests.

Conlin also says the task force will involve the tenants as much as possible.

“We’re also going to be communicating with the tenants in the building to let them know we’re coming,” he says. “If they wish us to inspect their units we can do that, but if they don’t want us to inspect them that’s okay too.”

The three specific buildings have yet to be identified, but direction from council has one building coming from each of the city’s priority neighbourhoods identified under the Region of Durham’s Health Neighbourhoods mapping system including south Oshawa, downtown Oshawa and the area of Beatrice North.

And while speculation has swirled that 275 Wentworth Street West in the city’s south end and 304 Simcoe Street South in the downtown, both labelled as problem offenders to the city’s bylaws, could be included in the pilot project, nothing has been cemented yet.

“We just collected all the facts for those properties we want to look at and we’re selecting those three properties,” Conlin says.

When the three buildings are chosen, Conlin says the tenants as well as the landlords and owners will be notified.

“There’s not going to be any surprises on this,” Conlin says. “So the building we choose it’ll be very transparent, but we’ll go through and do our audit just to see where these buildings stand in relation to the standards that we have.”

The hope is that these audits will take place in a single visit to the buildings. However, Conlin notes they could take longer depending on the scale of the involvement from tenants.

“We hope to be able to do this in one session per building, but it all depends if you have a number of tenants who are asking for their individual units to be inspected that could prolong the site visit,” he says.

Also as part of the motion carried by council ahead of summer recess, staff will be planning for a full-fledged expansion of the MLELS inspection program 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.

Previously, the call to expand the Residential Rental Housing Licensing System (RRHL) was shut down due to the fact that, 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 was not budgeted for.

For Conlin, the basis of expanding the inspection regime in the future will be determined by the success and resources required for the pilot program.

“I think we’re going to find some of it out when we go through this process that we’re doing in the fall,” Conlin says. “We have talked to other municipalities who have done similar programs and we’ve learned a little bit from that in terms of the resources they’ve had to allocate to it.”

The creation of the task force follows concerns raised by residents and representatives of ACORN Canada, a tenant rights and social justice organization in April. At that time, the Corporate Services committee had staff look into the possibility of expanding the city’s 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.