A clause in a North Bay bylaw created to target overcrowded rental units could be discriminatory in some cases, according to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

The commission recently finished its inquiry into a housing bylaw in North Bay that limited the number of tenants that could legally live in a single residence.

Based on the information provided to the commission, elements such as bedroom caps, gross floor area requirements and licence fees in North Bay's bylaw did not appear to be discriminatory.

But there was one feature that could be considered discriminatory, the commission noted.

"The City grants exemptions to the bylaw if two or fewer people are paying rent for the household," it stated in a May 9 press release.

"This focuses on people, not buildings. The [commission] calls for North Bay to remove this from the bylaw, because this rule can adversely affect students, single people, certain religious or ethnic groups and other Code-protected people who may not live in ‘traditional’ family units."

No power to overturn bylaw

The chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission said it is discriminatory to apply a rule differently to different people.

"Who you are and how you live with other people ... should not be ... the basis of decisions," Barbara Hall said. "All people should be treated the same way."

Despite that, Hall said the commission has no power to overturn the bylaw.

The commission has asked North Bay to remove that clause from its bylaw, however there is no word yet if the city plans to do so.

The commission’s report on its inquiry into rental housing licensing in the City of North Bay outlines what the commission heard, identifies the city's response to some concerns, gives recommendations for advancing human rights moving forward, and also refers to one part of the bylaw where human rights issues remain.

‘Promising practices’

The inquiry began with a survey in March 2012 of tenants, landlords and organizations dealing with rental housing — to which more than 185 people responded.

According to the commission’s press release, North Bay made commitments to reinforce ground rules to respect human rights at community meetings, allow a reasonable time to accommodate tenants who may be displaced if rental housing is shut down, enforce the bylaw with property owners not tenants, educate the public, and monitor the bylaw on an ongoing basis.

"Some of the promising steps North Bay is taking have been included in a new [commission] guide, Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing," the press release stated.

"This guide is designed to help municipalities make the connection between housing licensing and human rights, and includes advice on steps that can advance human rights and steps to avoid."

Hall noted that "rental housing licensing is a fairly new concept in Ontario."

"Our goal was to look closely at how licensing would affect families, students, seniors and vulnerable people who identify with grounds of Ontario's Human Rights Code," Hall said. "We found some promising practices."

The guide will be distributed to every Ontario municipality, planning schools, colleges and universities, housing advocates, and to organizations and individuals involved in housing.