On April 1, 2012, a new rental housing licensing program and bylaw (“Rental Licensing Bylaw”) comes into effect in the City of Waterloo (the “City”). With this bylaw the City is going to implement a program to license and regulate the business of renting residential units within the City, but does not include apartment buildings, group homes, hotels and certain regulated housing such as long-term care homes. The Rental Licensing Bylaw was approved by City council on May 9, 2011, and a copy can be found on the City’s website.1
Some of the stated objectives of the Rental Licensing Bylaw are, among other things, to protect the health and safety and the human rights of renters, to ensure that essential services are provided to renters (such as heating and water) and to protect the character and stability of the City’s residential neighbourhoods. As the City is home to two universities, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, the City’s desire to license and regulate residential rental housing is likely motivated by a concern that neighbourhoods surrounding the universities may contain low-quality or dilapidated student housing that could lower the over-all quality of these neighbourhoods. That being said, the Rental Licensing Bylaw does not specifically target student housing but applies across the City.
During the consultation process for drafting the bylaw, the City heard from a variety of stakeholders, such as landlords and tenants, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “OHRC”). Some concerns that the OHRC has with the Rental Licensing Bylaw is that it will further limit the housing options for certain marginalized groups and decrease the supply of affordable housing. And for landlords the Rental Licensing Bylaw requires annual licensing fees be paid to the City, various reports and plans must be submitted to the City and prescribed training that must be undertaken by the landlord, all of which means more time and money expended by landlords. With the added costs to landlords and the expected decrease in availability of rental housing in the City, it is expected that rental rates will increase and tenants may not be able to find suitable housing.
The City of Oshawa, the City of London and the City of North Bay have also taken steps to regulate rental housing and other municipalities may soon follow with Bylaws similar to the Rental Licensing Bylaw. The Rental Licensing Bylaw may provide a higher quality and safer supply of housing for renters in the City, however, the added administrative work, costs and the effect on the supply of housing is cause for concern.