News Local

Barrie councillor wants better regulations in place for rental units near college 10 

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Friday, September 6, 2013 9:10:19 EDT PM



A more forceful law could be considered to better control rental housing near Barrie's Georgian College.

Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth is asking that city staff talk to their Oshawa counterparts about their experience of using zoning and licensing bylaws to regulate the business of residential rental housing units.

Ainsworth, who represents the east end, says the college area has become a near-campus neighbourhood —losing its balance of owner-occupied homes, along with its traditional mix of elderly, middle-aged and young residents.

Instead, there are now mostly short-term rentals; some of the signs even say student rental housing.

“Rooms generally go for between $500-$600 a month and many landlords, not all, squeeze as many rooms and renters in the house as they can,” Ainsworth said. “One constituent recently claimed there were 10 and sometimes up to 18 people living in a house in the neighbourhood.

“I am sure this is an extreme case, but more than four would certainly not be unusual from what I am told.”

Georgian College students' interaction with east-end residents has been a contentious issue for decades in Barrie, with families living side-by-side with students, some as young as 17 and 18.

This has resulted in noise, parking and property standards complaints, to name a few.

Ainsworth says she has been working to improve conditions in neighbourhoods around the college since she was elected in 2010.

Barrie’s boarding, lodging and rooming house bylaw makes landlords register any dwellings with more than four tenants, but she said she feels that is not enough.

“In my opinion, the business of residential rental housing units has scoffed in the face of the neighbourhood,” Ainsworth said. “It has become obvious many landlords take no interest in the neighbourhood, the conduct of their tenants or the condition of their properties.

“It is time to take another look and to discern if a residential rental units licensing bylaw will be an effective way of addressing substandard housing conditions in rental units and protecting the amenity, character and stability of this residential neighbourhood.”

Ainsworth says city-wide licensing rental housing bylaws came into effect in London in 2010 and in Waterloo in 2012, and that similar licensing is being considered in Hamilton, Guelph and Thorold.

Oshawa passed its residential rental housing bylaw in 2008, choosing to enact a geographic law which applies to the area surrounding Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Ainsworth says, where many single-family homes have been rented to students.

The Ward 1 councillor wants Barrie to look at the Oshawa model because of its area specificity.

The city’s 2007 Georgian College Neighbourhood Strategy Report identified boundaries of a ‘Community Improvement Project Area’.

Georgian College’s study area is in Barrie’s north-east corner and is about five square kilometres. Its limits include Penetanguishene Road to the east, St. Vincent Street to the west, Wellington Street East and Steel Street to the south and Cundles Road East, Little Lake Drive, Highway 400 and Georgian Drive to the north.

One of the strategy’s major goals is ‘to ensure the safety of rental housing and increase compliance with city bylaws and regulations’.

Ainsworth says investigating the merits of licensing rental housing in the ‘Community Improvement Project Area’ is a good fit with the Georgian College neighbourhood study objectives.

She wants staff to report to Barrie councillors the feasibility of amending the business licensing bylaw to require licenses for all rental residential dwelling units in this area and estimate licensing fees on a cost recovery basis — including those for administering the bylaw, annual inspections prior to license renewal and general enforcement of the bylaw.

“Licensing will provide authority for annual inspections to ensure the safety of rental housing and increase compliance with city bylaws and regulations,” she said. “Licensing fees will offset the cost of extra law enforcement, property standards investigations and compliance and extra public property maintenance necessary because of the existence of this business in the neighbourhood.”

After attending a town and gown symposium in May, Ainsworth has become more interested in studying rental housing licensing bylaws in other municipalities.

But this needs a motion from council to involve city staff, and their time.

A discussion item on Monday’s agenda is that city staff in the building, bylaw, legal and planning departments, along with Ainsworth, consult with Oshawa officials concerning that city’s experiences with regulating the business of residential rental housing units through their zoning and licensing bylaws.

How well this would work with the existing city zoning bylaws remains to be seen.

Also, boarding, lodging and rooming houses cannot be banned or even constrained because the courts see it as a form of discrimination