Re-organizing the chaos
On Monday, May 9 the city of Waterloo held the final debate over the new rental housing bylaw and the councillors voted the proposal through. Now people wanting to rent in the Waterloo area will have to choose housing based on specific licensing fees — which will vary based on room number, floor space and other specifications.
Though amendments were made to the bylaw based on certain complaints, it was apparent by the reactions in the room on May 9 that not everyone was pleased. Many considered it to be a pointless bylaw, a waste of money and some citizens who spoke up at the city council meetings suggested it might be a way to get rid of students.
Following the decision, The Cord asked Waterloo ward six councillor Jeff Henry to share his thoughts on these ideas and possibly clear up some of the misinterpretations. When Henry was asked about the suggestion that the bylaw is being used as a way to get rid of students, he laughed and said, “It’s ludicrous to suppose that the city of Waterloo wants this to happen to get rid of students.
Most of our progress, motivation and ideas come from the students who live in this area — they are the life blood of this community, and everyone can contribute.”
“This bylaw was passed to increase the health and safety of the community for students and for other residents,” Henry said. “25 years ago there was an unfortunate incident where a student was lost due to a fire in a basement and the city said that there had to be something we can do about that.”
He emphasised that this bylaw was initially set to make housing safer for students and give them a healthier environment.
The updated bylaw will be monitored over a five year time frame to allow for any necessary amendments at that time, preventing the law from becoming outdated.
The new bylaw, first drafted with a three bedroom limit, was passed with a four bedroom limit. As well, it includes a statute that rental housing must now have their licences posted for tenants to see.
“We did that,” Henry said, “because we want bylaw enforcement as well as tenants to see who is responsible for what. It allows us to go in and fix problems and have an accountability regime, who is responsible for what if something happens.”
Sean Madden, vice president of university affairs for the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, commented, “We just ask that the city is diligent in enforcing that. A lot of misinformation is going around so it’s important that everything is transparent.”
One of the main concerns WLU and University of Waterloo students brought to the city’s attention had to do with the possibility of massive rent increase. Henry said, “We can’t predict that clearly but I would guess there will be about a two to four per cent increase in rent.”
Madden reassured students that “if they do deliver on health and safety, the two to four per cent rent increase seems like a fair trade.” Translated, two to four per cent should only be about a $12-$20 increase. “This way,” he continued, “with the licence posted and students informed, they will know that if their rent goes up an astronomical amount, like $500, they should be asking why by either talking to their landlord or asking the city.”
Henry also assured students that this increase is nothing to panic over. “The students’ union reps from both universities brought to council’s attention that they want those increases made transparent.” In other words, make the increase clear and hopefully as small as possible.
Even realtors around the Waterloo area see possible benefits of this bylaw. Ho Tek, co-owner of DOMUS Realty, said, “We’ll have to work a lot with the city on this but it should be a major benefit to students. At least, I hope this isn’t just a tax grab or that massive costs will be passed onto them.”
Bill Keay, sales representative at Remax Realty agreed that there does need to be a bylaw like this in Waterloo, however he did share some reservations.
“I just think that this bylaw is going micromanage investors. Possible investors might choose not to come to Waterloo because of all the hoops they’re going to have to jump through.” He admitted that he has already had several clients choose not to rent in Waterloo.
Henry reiterated the views of council in stating, “We recognise all the unique situations in Waterloo. There are big families and small families, students and other renters. What you have to do is make sure that you’ve got a mix of different housing types.”
“This bylaw doesn’t limit people it just gives you different housing options. The more rooms you want the higher the health and safety standards,” he confirmed.