More than 200 people in northwest Scarborough told city officials on Wednesday that they are opposed to a pilot project that would legalize rooming houses in their area of the city for three years as the city figures out how to regulate them.

"Forget it! We just don't want them, period. that's it. There's no discussion," Pamela Soares, a resident, said after a city meeting on Wednesday night at L'Amoreaux Community Recreation Centre at 2000 McNicoll Ave.

Diane Chen, another resident, agreed, saying regulating rooming houses is not the answer to the affordable housing crunch in the city. Instead of allowing rooming houses, the city should ensure more affordable housing is built, she said.

"I sold my house two years ago because the whole street, most of it, had been turned into illegal rooming houses," Chen said.

"Social housing is the responsibility of the city. What they have done is shift the responsibility from their shoulders onto us, normal people who just want to enjoy our neighbourhood. It is not our responsibility." 

Pamela Soares

Pamela Soares, a Scarborough resident, said: 'Forget it! We just don't want them, period. that's it. There's no discussion.' (John Sandeman / CBC)

The meeting was the last of six in areas where rooming houses are not permitted. 

Klaus Lehmann, manager of zoning for the city, said rooming houses need regulation in the city.

"I think what we're hearing is that people don't like rooming houses but I'm not really convinced that it's something that they totally understand," he said after the meeting.

Lehmann said residents know that rooming houses can cause them grief due to noise or parking issues, or because the property itself may be run down. But they may not understand that the city wants input before it draws up rules to govern their operation.

"None of this is regulated and that's why those things are happening. So we are looking at an opportunity now to get some input from them, the community, to really design a rooming house policy for the suburban municipalities that will allow it to exist and in a way that is compatible with the community," Lehmann said. 

"There's obviously a demand, there are lots of them happening already. They are all illegal, but they are happening." 

Klaus Lehmann

Klaus Lehmann, manager of zoning for the city, said rooming houses need regulation. (John Sandeman / CBC)

Lehmann said the "do nothing" approach, which was suggested on Wednesday night, would leave the issue unresolved. He said a legal process is needed so city officials can inspect rooming houses to protect tenants. He said he thinks immigration to the area is the reason that rooming houses are proliferating.

'Important part' of affordable housing stock

Last fall, city council endorsed a three-year pilot project in which a temporary zoning bylaw would be introduced to allow rooming houses in five areas of the city where they are currently not permitted.

Rooming houses are permitted in York, Toronto and Etobicoke. Those that operate in Toronto and Etobicoke must be licensed.

Rooming houses, which the city defines as multi-tenant houses, can mean a house, apartment or building where four or more people share a kitchen or washroom but pay individual rent.

The city says they are "an important part of the affordable rental housing stock." Tenants of rooming houses include students, seniors, new immigrants and low-income residents.

At the meeting, the city asked residents for their say on how rooming houses should be zoned, how many rooms should be allowed and what the rules should be put in place for rooming house landlords for such things as parking and waste management. 

Coun. Jim Karygiannis

Coun. Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), said calls to the city's 311 line show that about 10 per cent of rooming houses that cause problems are in his ward. (John Sandeman / CBC)

Coun. Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt), said the meeting made it clear that his constituents are overwhelmingly opposed to rooming houses in general.

Karygiannis said, according to calls made to the city's 311 line, about 10 per cent of rooming houses that cause problems are in his ward. His office receives calls regarding four to five rooming houses a day, he said.

'Conditions are horrible'

"People do not want rooming houses. I have been in some rooming houses myself. The conditions are horrible. People's lives are put at risk," he said.

"If we are going to legislate them, we are going to make sure they are legislated right."

Karygiannis said if his constituents agreed, he would support a certain number of rooming houses. But landlords of illegal rooming houses would have to face stiff penalties. He said a fine of $200,000 would be appropriate.

"I want to make sure that if anyone is operating an illegal rooming house, then we bring the hammer down," he said.

City staff are expected to report on the consultations this fall and officials hope the matter will go to the city's executive committee by the end of the year.

With files from Nick Boisvert