City to look at updating property standards bylaw to protect tenants

Mould, pests, broken door buzzers and mailboxes, cosmetic work and dirty ventilation are among the problems tenants in the city face, but find no support for when seeking enforcement under the current bylaw, according to Hamilton ACORN.

Mould, pests, broken buzzers among issues tenants want enforcement on: ACORN

Hamilton ACORN chair Mike Wood, left, was joined by tenant Patricia Galvin and Ward 14 Coun. Terry Whitehead for a press conference before the planning committee voted in favour of a motion to review Hamilton's property standards. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Hamilton's planning committee has voted to review its property standards bylaws and look for possible improvements to better-protect tenants.

The decision was reached Tuesday morning following a motion from Ward 14 Coun. Terry Whitehead that called for staff to meet with stakeholders for feedback and compare the current bylaw with other municipalities to find upgrades.

The goal is a bylaw that "provides accountability and enforcement and a timely resolution" for tenants, explained the councillor during a press conference before the meeting.

Mike Wood, chair of tenant advocacy group Hamilton ACORN's downtown branch, joined Whitehead and said his organization has spent the past three years fighting to strengthen the city's standards.

The vote comes as rent across the city continues to rise, rental properties are harder to come by and groups such as ACORN raise concerns about "renovictions" where landlords improve properties only to raise rent and push out existing tenants.

"We have had many members continue to live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions after bylaw was unable to enforce the landlords to fix the issues," Wood said, describing the motion as an "important first step."

"It is not fair to expect tenants to resort to filing at the landlord tenant board for basic repairs that should be covered by the bylaw," he added.

Mould, pests, broken door buzzers and mailboxes, cosmetic work and dirty ventilation are among the problems tenants in the city face, but find no support for when seeking enforcement under the current bylaw, according to ACORN.

Wood described having mouse feces fall on him from a clogged vent while cooking, saying in some buildings it's been decades since the ventilation systems were cleaned and issues like broken buzzers and mailboxes sometimes go months without being fixed.

He also spoke about the fact cosmetic work, which is not covered by the bylaw, is often used as a blanket excuse to allow landlords to get away with not fixing things like plastered-over holes and crumbling walls.

"There are a lot of things that are cosmetic that can actually hurt people," he pointed out.

Wood added that while the Landlord Tenant Board can issue orders on paper, they don't leave their office to make sure they're actually being enforced — that's why the bylaw matters.

During the meeting Wood shared images he said showed the type of issues Hamilton tenants are dealing with, from broken tiles to clogged vents. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Patricia Galvin, a resident at a Hughson Street South apartment building who said her rent is $734 a month, also shared her experience.

She said too many tenants in Hamilton are living with cockroaches, bed bugs and mice, not to mention "filthy" conditions.

The kitchen counter in her unit is rotting away, Galvin said, and her pipes are wrapped in electrical tape with a bucket sitting beneath to catch the drops when they leak.

Residents have contacted bylaw and public health about their concerns, but she said only minor changes to the exterior of the building have been changed and the critical, internal issues remain.

"People are throwing away their furniture because of bedbugs and they're sleeping on the floor."

Tenants and members of advocacy group ACORN Hamilton crowded the public gallery, clapping and cheering when the motion passed unanimously with a 7-0 vote. It still needs to be ratified by council during its next meeting on Jan. 22.

"We need to stay up with the times and make sure our tenants are living in a healthy environment," Whitehead said after the motion was read out. "Their mental health is being affected by the quality of their living conditions."