Ottawa

New rental regulations too weak to stop slumlords, advocates say

A new plan by the City of Ottawa to compel landlords to maintain their properties doesn't adequately protect tenants from slum conditions, says ACORN Ottawa.

Anti-poverty group ACORN wants city to adopt grade system for rental properties

Penelope Xidous says she feels 'tricked' by her landlord who promised her a newly renovated apartment. She said over the last decade her unit has experienced long-term water damage and poor heating. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

A new plan by the City of Ottawa to compel landlords to maintain their properties doesn't adequately protect tenants from slum conditions, says an advocacy group for low-income families.

"I thought it was a good start but it doesn't go far enough," said Norma-Jean Quibell, co-chair for the Britannia Ward for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN Ottawa.

"We believe we need a system that isn't based on complaints and is more proactive."

Ottawa's community and protective services committee meets Friday to discuss the city's recommended changes to Ottawa rental regulations.

City staff are recommending council hire two additional bylaw enforcement officers, hike the fines landlords can face, and establish an internal tracking system to better monitor rental housing quality.

They're also suggesting council explore the feasibility of creating a website where tenants and prospective tenants could see a building's maintenance violations or other red flags.

Penelope Xidous tries to open one of her kitchen drawers. She said it's among the many issues in her Carling Avenue rental apartment that has gone unfixed for years. (Laura Glowacki/CBC)

'I feel like I got tricked'

Penelope Xidous said she supports ACORN's plan for an online public database that would not only show properties that have both failed to meet maintenance standards, but also those that have complied with the rules.

The 42-year-old has rented a suite at a Carling Avenue highrise for more than 10 years, and said that from the first day she moved in, she's had problems.

"I feel like I got tricked," Xidous said Sunday. "Aren't they supposed to bring an apartment to a certain standard before a tenant moves in?"

In Xidous's kitchen, some of her drawers don't budge and the countertop is loose. Her bathroom fan is jammed and she uses a space heater in her bedroom to keep warm.

Xidous said she's raised all of the issues with her landlord. She's also complained about moisture seeping into her bedroom and troubling cracks in the pillars of the building's parking garage.

Norma-Jean Quibell stands with her daughter Morgan. ACORN Ottawa wants the city to scrap its complaint-based system and do regular proactive inspections of rental units, she said. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The property owner has made upgrades in some areas, she said, like the lobby and hallways, but not in the areas she says matter most.

"They use this to attract new tenants to come in here so they can make more money," Xidous said. "But the serious issues that pose a health risk or safety risk to the tenants — those get ignored completely."

Grade rentals like restaurants

The online system ACORN is pitching would give rental properties grades, making it "very similar to restaurants," Quibell said.

ACORN also wants the city to carry out regular inspections at rental buildings, like they do in restaurants, and stop relying on complaints to come into 311. 

Tenants do not always report problems under the current complaint-based model because they may fear retaliation from their landlord, Quibell said.

They also may not always recognize serious issues, like mould, that need to be addressed, she added.

"A tenant may not realize that a crack is actually water damage under the surface of the drywall," she said. "You would need someone who is trained specifically to do those inspections to catch those issues."

The city is recommending further investigation into the possibility of creating an online database similar to Vancouver's, Friday's report says. The city will have to ensure any database does not violate the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

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