Editorial: Allowing cities to license rental housing

Landlords in London, Ont., are up in arms over the city’s plans to require licences for rental units.

It’s an issue several municipalities have struggled with, particularly given the fact that measures aimed at dealing with substandard rental properties often target student housing.

As a result, they then find themselves dealing with allegations of discrimination against students, an issue the City of Oshawa has faced in its attempts to handle problems in neighbourhoods near the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

It’s one thing when claims of discrimination come from the students themselves, but it’s another when they’re from an organization like the London Property Management Association, which claims the bylaw requiring a $25 fee for a licence amounts to discrimination on the basis of age and marital status given its alleged purpose, according to the association’s recent Superior Court application challenging the new regime, “of discouraging and/or preventing occupancy of rental housing by students attending post-secondary educational institutions.”

“The bylaw also discriminates in accommodation on the basis of receipt of public assistance inasmuch as it eliminates affordable rental housing units from available rental housing stock in the city of London.”

It all sounds a little self-serving given that the association is arguing for the rights of people the bylaw it’s opposing aims to protect.

The same goes for its claims that rules forcing landlords to post information about individual property owners in rental units violate privacy legislation and expose “individual property owners and their families to significant threats of personal safety.”

The complaints are a bit much given that the licensing regime is fairly benign. The $25 fee is relatively cheap and, given that all it asks landlords to do is fill out a checklist that they must share with their tenants and the city, the requirements aren’t particularly onerous.

It’s hard to believe they would have a significantly detrimental effect on housing supply. At the same time, applying the bylaw to properties with four units or less means it’s likely to overcome any discrimination claims.

The association may have more luck with its argument that the bylaw, which allows the city to refuse or revoke licences to landlords, conflicts with the province’s Residential Tenancies Act.

According to its court submission, landlords can’t evict someone except under provisions of the provincial legislation, which doesn’t authorize ending a tenancy for failing to possess a municipal licence.

But if that turns out to be the case, perhaps it’s time to change the provincial law. Municipal licensing bylaws, particularly those as lenient as this one, are a reasonable way of ensuring decent rental housing.

At a time when provincial politicians are considering proposals to protect tenants from bedbugs, they could take a stab at this issue as well.
- Glenn Kauth

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