Human rights issue raised
A new rental bylaw that is set to come into effect in Waterloo on April 1 may be in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
It was announced last week that the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) will be launching a public inquiry into the new bylaw, which will limit the number of bedrooms in rental units to three, impose new regulations on the permitted size of bedrooms and limit the allowed space between rental units. This bylaw, which raised a considerable amount of protest from local landlords when it was approved last May, governs rental houses and townhomes, but does not apply to apartment buildings.
“If it’s safe for me in my house that I own to have four children, in-laws, brother-in-law, all living there, why is there a lower number permitted in houses that are rented?” said Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the OHRC.
“That would appear to be discriminatory to large families or people that choose to live together.”
Hall said that with the bylaw restricting the number of people allowed to occupy a rental home, there is the potential that it would be discriminatory towards “families, large families, young people, low income people, people with disabilities, all the groups who are more likely to be renting than owning.”
Hall also said the OHRC will be looking into the motivation behind the contents of the new bylaw.
“If there are requirements, one would need to look at if they’re arbitrary because of a particular group of people, or if there was a functional impact,” she said.
“What’s the planning purpose? Or is the purpose related to stereotypes that one might have against particular groups, and that would end up being discriminatory towards those groups.”
An inquiry of this kind can either be implemented by a community member filing a complaint or the OHRC looking into the matter independently. According to Hall, in this case, it was the OHRC that raised the inquiry.
As the OHRC investigates the bylaw for potential human rights violations, city officials stand by the legislation they passed nearly a year ago.
“We think we’re in compliance but we’re always happy to look for opinions,” said Waterloo city councillor Jeff Henry. “We’re always happy for good advice. We try and take it as often as possible. We’re certainly looking for any good advice that they can provide after they take a look.”
According to director of bylaw for the City of Waterloo, Jim Barry, the OHRC played a considerable role in the formulation of the bylaw.
“We’ve been working with the OHRC for just about two years now, we spoke with them early in the process to make sure we had a strong bylaw moving forward,” he said.
The public inquiry will be taking feedback from the public until April 15, two weeks after the new bylaw is expected to come into effect. According to Hall, the OHRC’s recommendations, should the situation call for them, will likely come out in the summer.
And as of now, the new bylaw will go ahead as planned.
“We’ve been given no indication that we shouldn’t go ahead and of course we’re going to because that’s what we committed to the public to do back when we passed this in May,” said Henry.
“The actual input for the inquiry doesn’t end until the second week of April. Our plans are certainly to move forward [with the bylaw],” added Barry.
Henry also stated that despite the initial protest in May, many of Waterloo’s landlords have been eager to ensure they will be compliant with the new bylaw, as city-run information sessions in February swelled with participation.
However, not every landlord is so willing to comply with the new restrictions. Some even feel it is in place to drive longtime landlords – particularly those that rent to students — and residents out of the city to make way for private interests such as developers and the local universities.
“Basically, [the bylaw] bankrupts all of the landlords, because right now the average [student rental] house has five or six students,” said Paul Ellingham, a landlord who owns multiple rental properties in Waterloo.
“Under the new bylaw, those houses will become limited to three students …. Why is the city building five and six bedroom [apartments] everywhere if a house isn’t safe for more than three people?”
Ellingham warns that the restrictions of the new bylaw have the potential to drive up rent costs, making it less affordable for people like students to rent in Waterloo.
“This rental has everything to do with devaluing the houses and getting the students out,” he said.
Hall stressed that one of the main objectives of the public inquiry is to look at the potential issues that may arise with the cost of renting under the new bylaw and ensuring it does not “reduce the options for affordable housing.”