Tenants rally to license landlords
Council closes door on proposed pilot project but will look at other city’s ideas
Dozens of tenants and supporters rallied at City Hall Tuesday to call for licensing of Hamilton landlords — only to see a proposed pilot project put off for more study.
Rally co-organizer and apartment tenant Mike Wood said he believes all landlords should be licensed, but added the groups’ focus is on larger buildings “because they represent hundreds of people in need of help.”
“There are a lot of buildings out there with a lot of problems,” said Wood, who described becoming sick from the use of “unsafe chemicals” to treat bed bugs in a former apartment.
Wood said he has tried negotiating the “confusing” landlord tenant tribunal system to solve various housing problems in the past, but believes tougher city regulation would be of more help to people.
“If you pay your rent, you deserve to live in safety and dignity,” he said.
Some rally participants called for radical action, including forming a city-wide tenants union or organizing rental strikes.
But Wood urged members of the city’s rental housing subcommittee — which include councillors, landlords and other citizens — to adopt a new rental licensing regime recently approved in Toronto.
After the rally, the committee considered a staff recommendation to study the feasibility of a pilot program to license some landlords in Wards 1 and 8, which have higher numbers of homes divided into rental units often targeted at students.
But many committee members, particularly landlords, balked at the idea of formal licensing and the associated extra costs — which they argue would be downloaded to tenants who can ill afford to pay.
The committee eventually agreed to endorse a heavily reworded recommendation to council that doesn’t specify a licensing pilot project.
Instead, it asks council to hire a staffer to study the feasibility of a variety of regulation and enforcement options for rental housing.
Ward 8 Coun. Terry Whitehead, who chairs the subcommittee, said he didn’t want to “waste the paper” needed for a voluntary registry, calling such an idea toothless.
But he garnered agreement from the committee to form a working group to visit other cities for a “fact-finding” effort on licensing regimes.
He also suggested both city staff and the working group could take a closer look at Toronto’s new licensing bylaw for large buildings, arguing the regulatory effort provides welcome “transparency and predictability” for both tenants and landlords.
Hamilton has previously studied the idea of rental housing licensing.
It shelved a comprehensive proposal in 2013 that would have regulated rental buildings with six or fewer units.
That decision triggered the formation of the current subcommittee.
It has largely spun its wheels in trying to find alternative solutions to licensing.
Some of the members expressed frustration over the delays Tuesday.
“We don’t seem to be any closer yet to providing improvements to renters,” said citizen member Steve Calverley.
“We’ve got to get on with this, folks.”
Dozens attended a tenant rally held by ACORN outside Hamilton City Hall Tuesday during the noon hour.