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Complaints of volatile housing situation near Algonquin have prompted city review

Photo by Brianna Campigotto

A recent proposal to implement landlord licensing in Ottawa has people torn on whether it will make it easier or harder to find affordable housing, especially for students.

In light of recent complaints from residents living near Algonquin College regarding the quality of student housing in the area, College Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli requested a review.

Chiarelli explained in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen in June that illegal housing has contributed to growing problems like noise, parking, and garbage, and is detrimental to the character of the neighbourhood.

The lack of housing often leads to an increase in housing violations as individuals try to cash in on the student windfall.

“Our problem now is illegal rooming-houses—people converting houses into apartments illegally,” Chiarelli told the CBC.

The University of Ottawa is no stranger to housing issues as it struggles to find accommodations for its growing student population.

A new 400-space student residence was opened at the intersection of Rideau and Friel streets by the university in September, but the U of O still needs to build 600 additional housing units to meet the demand.

Mathieu Fleury, the Ottawa city councillor of the Rideau-Vanier Ward, acknowledges that housing is an important issue in Sandy Hill. “We’re trying to maintain the character and protect the character of the neighbourhood,” said Fleury.

He is open to the idea of implementing landlord licensing. “I think any mechanism which we can make sure that basic standards are obliged and even improve on that is positive,” said Fleury. “We have to keep in mind that often (for) people who are moving into units this is their first time away from home. They might not know all their rights.”

However no course of action will be taken without consultation from all members of the community, said Fleury, including the university, students, landlords and residents of Sandy Hill.

Landlords in Ottawa are concerned that the proposed regulations will increase rent for tenants. “We don’t think it’s a good idea,” said John Dickie, executive director of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization (EOLO).

“Licensing to us is an onerous obligation which will fall mostly on people who are behaving properly now, and it will do very little to cure the limited number of problems that are there,” said Dickie. “What’s to say that the city is going to be any more effective in enforcing a new set of rules than they are in enforcing the existing set of rules?”

The city will study other Ontario towns with high student populations which have made it mandatory for landlords to acquire a licence.

According to the Citizen, the landlords of non-high-rise properties in Waterloo are required to pay for a licence, submit a maintenance plan, and undergo a mandatory housing inspection. If any of the requirements or regulations are not met, the landlords could be required to pay up to $100,000.

In Waterloo landlords must pay between $300 and $750 to apply for a licence in addition to annual renewal fees.

Tenants could ultimately end up bearing the brunt of the costs of licensing landlords, said Dickie.

“If it were to come in, it would drive up the cost of doing business, and driving up the cost of doing business will tend to drive up rent,” said Dickie. “Tenants will end up paying most or all of the fees that the city collects for licensing.”

Several Ontario cities have already implemented landlord licensing, including London, Oshawa, and Guelph.

In other cities such as Hamilton, licensing was considered but ultimately turned down due to the overwhelming opposition from the landlords.

The review, being undertaken by members of Ottawa bylaw, is expected to be completed by next summer.