By Doug Hallett
C ity councillors want a clear understanding of costs versus benefits before they decide whether to move forward with a plan to license much of the city’s rental housing.
“I think what is missing is the magnitude of what we might be talking about,” Mayor Karen Farbridge said Tuesday, referring to a new city staff report that proposes licensing an estimated 8,700 rental dwelling units in Guelph.
Staff should do a cost-benefit analysis before, not after, what would likely be a “contentious process” of public consultations on the issue of licensing, Farbridge told a council committee. Depending on the results of a cost-benefit analysis, council might just decide to kill the idea before it goes any further, she suggested.
The five-member committee unanimously approved Farbridge’s call for a cost-benefit analysis to be done before the licensing proposal proceeds to the stage of public consultations.
The licensing plan is city hall’s latest attempt to deal with public concerns about shared rental housing. An attempt by council to use zoning bylaw changes to address concerns in many neighbourhoods, especially in Wards 5 and 6, failed last year after a couple of local landlords appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board.
John Gruzleski of the Old University Neighbourhood Residents’ Association said Tuesday that his association welcomes the new city hall report on licensing. His committee favours an approach that would combine low licensing fees with high penalties for licensing violations, he told the city’s planning & building, engineering and environment committee.
But lawyer Joe Hoffer, representing local landlords Morris and Donna Haley, said the experience of other Ontario municipalities that have pursued licensing of shared rental housing should convince Guelph council to abandon the idea.
The City of London has spent $420,000 a year on its licensing program, but has generated only $90,000 in licensing fees during the three years the program has been in effect, he said. The City of Waterloo has much higher fees, and this extra cost is passed on to tenants, he said.
Guelph’s licensing plan is “unnecessary regulation,” Hoffer charged. Council should “step back and take a real hard look at what has happened in other municipalities.”
The city staff report says the aim of the proposed licensing of shared rental housing is to “support the health, safety and well-being of persons and protection of persons and property.”
City staff propose to license all accessory apartments and most lodging houses, as well as single detached and semi-detached dwellings, townhouses and coach houses. There wouldn’t be any licensing of apartment buildings, special needs housing such as nursing group homes, emergency shelters, student residences operated by universities or colleges, and social housing administered or funded by the county.
Coun. Lise Burcher said it wasn’t clear from the staff report what would be gained from starting to license, as opposed to the current system of registering shared rental housing units at city hall.
Coun. Cam Guthrie said he didn’t like the additional bureaucracy that would come with licensing.
“I think we need to just beef up (bylaw) enforcement a little bit more,” he said.
Committee chair Coun. Leanne Piper said it would be a “progressive” move on the city’s part to start licensing.
The city has already tried to deal with the problems related to shared-rental housing through zoning and bylaw enforcement, she said.
However, “we haven’t had the impact that the community expects,” Piper said.
In September 2010, council passed a zoning bylaw amendment dealing with shared rental housing. Among other things, it imposed a 100-metre separation for two-unit properties – which means residential dwellings with accessory apartments – with a total of more than five bedrooms. It called for such houses to be at least 100 metres from any other accessory-apartment building of similar size, or from a lodging house or group home.
However, council ended up repealing this zoning amendment in January 2012, after the Ontario Human Rights Commission got involved in the OMB appeal launched by the local landlords.
City officials consulted with the Ontario Human Rights Commission in crafting its new licensing plan, the new staff report says.
The report says the commission suggested, among other things, that the city avoid “per occupant” references; that it implement the licensing bylaw city-wide instead of targeting a particular area; and that it avoid minimum separation distance requirements in a licensing bylaw. Licensing would include fees and regular inspections.