Rental regulations polarizes groups

With the city’s rental licensing by-law proposal set to return to council in less than three weeks, different stakeholder groups have banded together to make their voices heard by city staff.

The opposition

“Basically I think we were blindsided by the city’s by-law,” said Gweneth Minaker, a local landlord and representative for the group Protecting Rental
Options in Waterloo (PROW).

Following a January city council meeting where the proposal was first discussed in a public forum, landlords who spoke out angrily against the changes to the by-law realized that they needed a more organized vehicle to present their arguments and thus collaborated to create PROW. Although Minaker explained that the group has grown to reflect the views of a variety of stakeholders, PROW is primarily made up of licensed lodging house owners.

“[The city has] particularly taken all lodging houses, licensed lodging houses and said that they’re going to have to reduce upon resale to three bedrooms,” said Minaker, conveying one of the key issues PROW has with the proposal.

Limiting tenant numbers

Upon speaking to the city’s director of by-law Jim Barry, he stated that under the new structure homes could still apply for a Class C licence, permitting four or more bedrooms.

Explaining the current structure for licenses, Barry added, “Unless you have a lodging house licence —which is a very specific license that requires a fair bit of upgrade for fire code and building code and what not — unless you have that licence you can’t have more than three roomers or boarders in your house now.”
Furthermore, if the proposed by-law is passed, the transition will not occur overnight.

Rather, current lodging houses will receive a Class D licence permitting four or more bedrooms until the house is sold at which point the new owners would have to apply for licensing.

Barry reiterated that for students, this will result in “relatively little change in the immediate.”

The concerns of PROW lie not only in the three-bedroom regulation but the underlying stipulations that could result in a house being forced in to that qualification after resale.

“That means that all those owners who have invested in good faith would lose between, it actually works out to 25 and 98 per cent of the value of the building and the potential income potential upon resale,” said Minaker.
Under the regulations of the proposed Class C licence for boarding homes, a home could not be within 75 meters of another Class C home or transitional Class D home. This would limit the number of houses being available for rent to more than three tenants.

Changing landscape

The complications of such a transition, particularly in Northdale, the primarily student inhabited area north of Wilfrid Laurier University, has been brought to city staff’s attention.

“We’ve heard this is going to cause a larger problem, and that’s one of the things we’ve gone about looking in to as we prepare the next draft of the by-law,” said Barry.

While this could result in a scarcity in housing adjacent to the university, Barry also noted that the complications of the transition could be incorporated to the city’s height and density policy.

“The city approved the policy that they want more density in the corridors,” Barry began, referring to plans for taller buildings among main roads.
“Essentially if you can’t grow out because we’re at our boundary, you have to grow up and that’s certainly one of the ways the city has looked at mitigating these issues.”

Possible changes in the landscape of rental housing may not be the only result facing tenants but changes to the cost of renting as well.

Dollars and cents

“The city has set up fees on the principle that the licensee has to pay 100 per cent of the cost,” said Minaker.

Under the proposed fee structure, landlords could initially be paying between $406 and $710 annually for their licence. According to the report presented to council in January, it is Class C licences — with the greatest number of tenants per household — that will be paying the highest fees.

“If that’s the cost of doing business,” Minaker said, “if landlords can’t make a profit, they’re not going to continue to do it.”

Before tenants begin to fear rent hikes, however, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union VP of university affairs Saad Aslam stated, “Rent is never set by the landlord, it’s set by who ever rents it.”

“The landlord can ask $450 a month but if all the people out there who are willing to rent it are only offering $350 than they’re going to take $350 or leave the house empty,” he clarified.

With so many factors contributing to the future costs of renting, Aslam noted that students and tenants alike should be mindful where they receive information from regarding the changes to the by-law and contact the city with their concerns.

The next steps in determining the by-laws merit will be decided upon on Apr. 11 at city council.


Proposed by-law changes

Rental licences are required for those carrying on a rental business that collects rent.

Residential Rental Businesses that require licences do not include university residence, apartment buildings, group homes, hotels and inns or special care and long-term homes.

Class “A” and “B” licences are non-boarding rental houses or owner occupied rental properties, respectively, that do not have more than three bedrooms.

Class “C” Licence for Boarding Houses; also known as lodging houses, are rental units that have more than four bedrooms, no more than two bathrooms, are less than three storeys in height and have a common kitchen, dining and living room. A Class C lodging house cannot be within 75 meters of another Class C or transitional Class D house.

Class “D” Licences for transitional boarding houses will allow houses to maintain the number of valid bedrooms until the ownership of the house is transferred. This licence will not be able to be renewed.

Bedrooms under all licences must be a minimum of 75 square feet in size.
Unlicenced rental properties may be fined $350 if the proposal passes.

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