Hamilton

Planning committee supports pilot project to license rental housing in 3 Hamilton wards

Hamilton's planning committee has voted in support of a rental licensing pilot for select areas of the city with the aims of tackling neglected units and protecting tenants.

'We're a hotbed here in Hamilton. It's the best place to build illegal bedrooms,' says real estate board head

Hamilton's planning committee voted unanimously in favour of a two-year rental licensing pilot project for Wards 1, 8 and parts of Ward 14. (CBC)

Hamilton's planning committee has voted in support of a rental licensing pilot for select areas of the city with the aims of tackling neglected units and protecting tenants.

"I think this is a huge step forward for residents... that have been sounding the alarm on this issue for years and year," said councillor John-Paul Danko, who represents Ward 8.

The project covers Danko's Ward, along with Ward 1 and parts of 14. It still needs to be ratified by council and is set to return to the committee on Sept. 21 in order to provide enough time to notify the public.

The pilot would add a license fee of $215, with a $77 administration fee. The committee voted unanimously in favour of it after an amendment was made to fully recover its total operating cost of about $2 million without passing that burden on to taxpayers.

'The best place to build illegal bedrooms'

The committee heard from a long list of delegates, including Donna Bacher, president of the Realtors Association of Hamilton Burlington (RAHB), who said it supports licensing.

"I think it's a great pilot project and to kick it two years down just means we have another 200, maybe 1,000 more illegal bedrooms popping up, in Westdale and up by Mohawk College," she said. "And that's not a benefit to anyone."

Bacher pointed to cities such as Waterloo and London, which have licensing rules for properties, noting they help maintain neighbourhoods.

"We're a hotbed here in Hamilton," she said. "It's the best place to build illegal bedrooms."

Not everyone was in favour of the project.

A letter from the Hamilton and District Apartment Association (HDAA) was among 43 written responses sent to the committee.

The organization said it "strongly disagrees" with licensing in the city, adding doing so could push some residents onto the street if units get shut down.

"Licensing ... and its subsequent fees will be downloaded to tenants, resulting in increased rents, would hurt rental supply by discouraging the creation of new units and causing displacement and would be an extra burden both financially and in manpower to the city," it said.

The letter also pointed to difficulties from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and said the HDAA supports delaying until it's over.

Report said pilot should be delayed to 2023

Danko and Maureen Wilson, who represents Ward 1, issued a statement last week saying they supported the project beginning immediately.

The Mountain councillor said there are neighbourhoods in his ward where "nearly every home" is owned by absentee landlords and real estate investors.

While Wilson said properties in her part of the city have been "carved up to maximize revenues," adding the buildings have become businesses and "need to be treated as such."

But a city report said the pilot project should not be enacted now, and instead pushed it to 2023 with staff reporting back then.

It says Hamilton's rental market has shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, with vacancy rates dropping and rents rising.

It also said the city has existing bylaws that address issues such as noise as well as property standards and maintenance.

Rose Lukosius, with the Ainslie Wood Community Association, said residents have watched the "deterioration" of their area over the past 25 years, sharing photos of crumbling porches and trash strewn across the street.

Despite making repeated calls to the city about issues from garbage to overgrown lawns, Lukosius said the current complaints-based approach doesn't work.

Students vulnerable to 'predatory leasing practices'

Student representatives from McMaster University and Mohawk College were also among those who addressed the committee.

Siobhan Teel, the vice president of education with the McMaster Students Union, said while the pilot project isn't specifically about students they're "vulnerable to predatory leasing practices."

Teel spoke from personal experience, saying she had lived in a six-bedroom home for years, despite issues with heating and broken windows.

"Student are not asking for luxury accommodations," she said. "We're asking for homes that are free from hazards like overcrowding, mould and a lack of safety."

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