West-coast bylaw would protect Hamilton tenants against 'renovictions', says advocacy group

The tenant rights group wants the city to copy a bylaw from the west coast that makes landlords responsible for people's accommodations during renovations and ensures they have a place to come home to once they're done.

Bylaw makes landlords responsible for tenant accommodations during renovations

Hamilton ACORN wants the city to replicate a bylaw that makes landlords responsible for their tenants' accommodations during renovations and ensures the option for them to return. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

A tenant rights organization in Hamilton wants the city to follow in another municipality's footsteps by implementing tough rules to crack down on so-called renovictions.

Hamilton ACORN says the city should take "bold action" by replicating a bylaw passed last year in New Westminster, B.C., that stops landlords from evicting tenants under the guise of renovations and increasing rental prices.

The group says the bylaw takes the financial incentive for renovictions out of the picture. Landlords who break the rules can also be fined.

"While no city in Ontario has yet taken this step, the power is there for municipalities to license and put strong measures in place to disincentivize renoviction," the group said. 

ACORN released its new housing report on Thursday and said while the city has recently taken important steps, "more must be done" to tackle the housing crisis. 

In response to residents voicing concern about the state of disrepair of rental properties, the city's planning committee voted in January to review its property standards for apartments. This will be completed in the coming months.

It also decided to look for possible improvements to better protect tenants. 

What the bylaw would require of landlords

The group said it believes the B.C. bylaw would be legally possible in Hamilton, and along with enforcement of the new standards, would be the next natural move to protect renters across the city. 

According to a report released by the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, 45 per cent of Hamilton renters are living in unaffordable housing and eviction notices for reasons other than non-payment of rent, like renovations, have more than doubled.

Under the New Westminster bylaw, developers have to obtain all their permits from the city for the renovations and prove the tenants have to leave so the work can be carried out. 

Before giving an eviction notice, landlords have to provide tenants with alternative accommodations while the work is being done.

They also have to give an offer in writing for the tenant to return to their unit or another unit at the same rental price they were paying before, subject to any increases allowed under the regulations. 

In January, the city moved to review its property standards bylaw and look for ways to better protect tenants. (Hamilton ACORN/Facebook)

Landlords caught breaking the rules can face fines and lose their business licenses. 

Ward 8 councillor John-Paul Danko, who was at the group's press conference on Thursday, wouldn't say if the city would consider a bylaw like the one out west. 

But he acknowledged that as landlords consolidate into corporate entities, he's seen a drop in the level of care they used to have. And that "leads to having to have more controls,"

He described seeing problems with absentee landlords on the Mountain, and those who want to rent to the "luxury end" of the market by converting their buildings to prevent those in lower income brackets from renting. 

"If this wasn't happening, we wouldn't even be having this conversation," he said.

Hamilton's rental prices also spiked between 2018 and 2019, with rent jumping 24.4 per cent, according to data from the private rental website Rentals.ca. It says the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city for August 2020 was $1,489.

ACORN said there are several ways renovictions happen, like being offered money and pressured to move out of your apartment or being issued an N13 eviction notice that allows eviction for "substantial" renovations. 

The municipalities of Burnaby and Port Coquitlam, B.C.. have both followed suit in implementing similar bylaws to New Westminster. 

In its report, the group added that the city should:

  • License landlords, which they say would help ensure buildings stay in good condition. 
  • Track sales of rental buildings and reach out to tenants to inform them of their rights. 
  • Expand and make the tenant defence fund, which covers legal costs, permanent. 

Danko said that he has been pushing hard to bring in rental licensing. And while he is focused on applying that to single family homes and smaller rentals, it isn't a completely separate issue from regulating larger buildings. 

"If we're looking at licensing those smaller rentals then we should also be looking at what else would apply to the larger rental buildings," he said. "I think it's something that we need to talk about...and it's a growing issue in the community, and it's not going away."

 A tenant rally is scheduled for Friday. 


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