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Could rental licensing go citywide?

System currently only in place near Durham College, Ontario Tech

Christeen Thornton of DIRE speaks during a 2017 city council meeting. Thornton has once again asked Oshawa to expand its residential rental housing licensing system on a citywide basis.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa may take another kick at the can to expand the city’s rental housing licensing system beyond the borders of Durham College and Ontario Tech University.

The city’s corporate services committee has directed staff to prepare a report on the possibility of growing the Residential Rental Housing Licensing (RRHL) system.

The committee supported the motion brought forth by Ward 2 city councillor Jane Hurst during the most recent meeting.

The current RRHL system only exists in the areas surrounding the campuses of Durham College and Ontario Tech University.

The system was put in place in 2008 and requires landlords to maintain their premises in accordance with provincial fire, building and electrical codes, along with adhering to city bylaws related to property standards and zoning.

Speaking to The Oshawa Express, Hurst said while she appreciates the “safety and security” of students, she believes it should extend across the city.

“I think it is also our responsibility to look after the same concerns regarding residents of Oshawa…,” she said. “What’s so different? Shouldn’t they be afforded the same degree of care?”

Hurst noted there are many renters, including seniors on fixed incomes and those with disabilities, who face issues on a daily basis.

“You can’t sweep these issues under the rug, and we’re all aware of the demands on housing, and the need for affordable housing,” she said.

Christeen Thornton, a member of advocacy group Direction Intervention For Everyone (DIRE), spoke in support of expanding the system at the committee meeting.

She said there are many  “vulnerable” people who are renters, and the city must take a “proactive approach” to assist them.

“I’m thinking we can take the existing parameters and expand it,” she said.

However, this is not the first time efforts have been made to expand the program.

In fact, Thornton approached the last city council with the same idea in 2017.

During the 2018 budget deliberations, council considered adding $300,000 in the operating budget to hire a consultant to look into possibly giving the RRHL system more outreach.

But that idea was pushed aside in favour of a project similar to what council ran in 2017 that saw staff proactively inspect a trio of problematic apartments in order to identify issues with property standards and fire code violations.

At that time, Thornton called the decision “grossly negligent.”

The committee passed a few other resolutions on the matter.

Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson would like to see the city create a direct line of communication for tenants.

“Tenant inquiries take far more dedicated time than a pot hole or a tree down in the road,” he said.

His local ward counterpart John Gray worried the city would be setting up “a second Service Oshawa” just for tenant inquiries.

Gray also wanted to make sure support would be provided for landlords as well.

“There are problems on the other side of the equation as well,” he said.

Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson spoke on the possibility of the city creating a tenant’s bill of rights to be posted in all rental units.

“One of things I’ve discovered in just the first year on council is a lot of the issues that come, up particularly for tenants… [are issues such as safety or problems with other tenants],” he said.

Giberson noted many renters don’t know where to look for support or resources available to them because they don’t even know they are there.

Mayor Dan Carter said such a bill of rights would need to be “clear and concise” because tenant-landlord disputes are for the most part under provincial jurisdiction.

“I don’t want it to be a case where people are told they have the rights and [then find out they] have to go through the rental tribunal,” Carter said.

Hurst suggested it would be beneficial to review what standards other municipalities have.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she said.