Landlords packed Hamilton's council chambers Tuesday afternoon to protest a proposed new plan to license rental units.

The landlords attended a planning committee meeting where councillors examined a proposal that would see landlords of buildings with six or fewer units apply for a licence.

The staff report also recommended a "permanent proactive bylaw enforcement program" that would see 17 new staff hired in the city's bylaw enforcement division over the next two years.

To get a licence, landlords would have to provide a property maintenance plan, proof of insurance and zoning verification, among other documentation.

Councillors heard five hours of presentations from a total of 30 speakers, most of whom were landlords against the bylaw. Many said there is already adequate regulation through the Landlord and Tenant Board, the Residential Tenancies Act and the existing fire code.

Licensing would be redundant, said Cameron Nolan, president of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington. Nolan recently bought a rental property.

Council's motivation may be to regulate student housing, but "the problem isn't city wide," Nolan said.

"There isn't a huge influx of improper housing, and if there is, it's a zoning issue."

Implementing a licensing bylaw would cost about $840,000 in 2013, with an impact of about $600,000 on the tax base after factoring in costs recovered from licensing fees, said Joe Xamin, manager of the city's operation strategies, parking and bylaw services division.

In 2014, it is estimated to cost about $1.6 million with a levy impact of $450,000.

The licensing act could affect about 30 per cent of the city's rental units, Xamin told the committee. And the city is not sure where tenants would live if they are displaced by the new bylaw.

Renee Wetselaar, social planner with the Hamilton Affordable Housing Flagship, reminded councillors of Hamilton's 2006 official plan, which stated that the city needs 629 new affordable housing units each year to keep up with the demand.

Wetselaar suggested instead that the city "work with housing providers in establishing standards and bringing those standards up to code."

Not everyone was against a licensing bylaw. Huzaifa Saeed, vice-president education with the McMaster University Students Union, made a presentation encouraging the bylaw, as did a handful of Westdale residents.

Some students live in units with bad roofs and sewage leaks, Saeed said. But they often don't know where to go to complain or are too intimidated to do so.

Pitting student against landlord is "really awkward," he said.

"For us it doesn't work at all. It's almost like filing a lawsuit. If you're only renting a house for year, you might not want to mess with the landlord because you don't know what's going to happen."

Staff will come back to the committee with a more comprehensive report answering more questions about the bylaw.

Among those questions: whether there will be an appeal process, why high-rise buildings are not included in the plan, and how a similar bylaw has gone over in London, Ont., which implemented one three years ago.