When students party too hard, should London landlords pay?
Proposed bylaw amendments could put landlords on the hook unless they take 'reasonable actions'
London continues to wrangle with its street party problem, but is it fair to ask landlords of student rental properties to help cover a share of the costs?
It's an issue that came before the city's community and protective services committee Monday as London looks for ways to better deal with unsanctioned student street parties like the one that flooded Broughdale Avenue near Western University with 20,000 revellers in September. The street bash overwhelmed police, sent 57 people to hospital and prompted warnings from police that future street parties could easily cost a life.
Particularly worrisome were social media videos that showed students "brewfing" — literally drinking beer while climbing onto roofs and even jumping off them. Broughdale became so jammed with people that emergency services couldn't access the street.
In a bid to help dial down the dangerous partying, city staff are looking to increase fines covered by existing bylaws for violations related to street parties, including:
- Interfering with the use of a street would go from $150 to $450.
- Hosting a nuisance party would go from $750 to $1,000.
- Dumping litter on municipal property would go from $175 to $300.
But staff also presented proposed amendments to the public nuisance bylaw that would allow the city to pursue tenants — and landlords — to recover costs from cleanup and damage.
Existing bylaws prohibit so-called nuisance parties, but staff want the maximum fine to jump to $25,000 for repeat offences. The current maximum is $10,000.
A staff report outlines situations where the city might invoice property owners and their tenants for damages caused by the kind of wild street parties that have become an annual occurrence on Broughdale during so-called fake homecoming celebrations in September.
"Where an absentee landlord ... takes no action to prevent, end, or clean up after a nuisance party, they may be subject to invoicing," reads a report presented at the community and protective services committee meeting Monday.
Landlords can't control tenants, lawyer argues
Taking issue with that is Joseph Hoffer, a lawyer with the firm Cohen Highley, which represents the 600-member London Property Management Association.
Hoffer said the proposed bylaw is badly misguided.
"This is a bylaw which purports make an individual responsible for the actions of a third party," he said. "There seems to be an assumption built into the bylaw amendment that landlords can control the actions of their tenants, and that assumption is fundamentally flawed."
The report also calls on owners to take action to prevent damage, such as preventing people from getting on roofs during parties and even hiring their own security staff. In a written submission to the committee, Hoffer said landlords aren't able to carry out a lot of the actions called for in the proposed bylaw — including hiring private security — because those actions are outlawed by the Residential Tenancies Act.
Orest Katolyk, the city's head of bylaw enforcement, told the committee Monday that hiring security is only intended as "a suggestion" to landlords. The report also says the city will not try to recover costs in situations where property owners "reasonably attempted to prevent a nuisance party from occurring on their property."
The report goes on to say:
"The city does not wish to invoice reasonable property owners for the actions of their tenants. However, where an absentee landlord, for example, takes no action to prevent, end, or clean up after a nuisance party, they may be subject to invoicing."
Student rentals are 'a business' resident says
Marie Blosh has lived in Old North for 18 years. She says landlords who own student rental houses need to take a more active role in curtailing street parties.
"Absentee owners in Broughdale are running businesses," she said. "The nuisance caused by these businesses is being paid for by the taxpayers and we area residents are also suffering the loss of quiet enjoyment of our properties."
Blosh called the bylaw "a step in the right direction" and cautioned council against watering it down.
Whether or not it does get diluted won't be known for at least a few months.
Staff want to take a second look
The committee voted to ask staff to review the bylaw — taking into consideration the legal concerns raised by Hoffer — and report back on May 28.
Coun. Shawn Lewis said he's worried the review could delay bringing in tougher rules he said are badly needed to help address the street party problem. Lewis said he wouldn't support any further delays.
"My concern is that we have this back and in place before the fall," he said. "When this comes back, we'll be making a decision. Residents in the area have been waiting years for action to be taken."
But Coun. Phil Squire, a lawyer whose Ward 6 is ground zero for the September student parties, argued against rushing the bylaw, saying it must be able to withstand any legal challenges.
"What I want is a bylaw that works, a bylaw that is enforceable," he said. "And if that takes two months, then I'm happy with two months."