The Thorold residential rental licensing by-law debate finally came before Council Tuesday night, and quite a number of people – residents as well as landlords or their reps. – showed up to bolster their side of the argument. But it would not turn out to be the battle of anger and wits that some were expecting. It didn’t even take as long as most expected, as the landlords failed to bring their ‘A’ game in a debate that was theirs to lose.
First up from among the delegations that evening was Winterberry Blvd. resident Samantha Middleton, who introduced herself as the one who posted “that vile vile video”, likely referring
to a video of the alternate student Homecoming party on her street which was featured on CHCH TV news. She expressed dismay with the behaviour of students and inaction of their landlords.
“To hear your neighbourhood referred to as a slum is bit disheartening,” she said. She went on to say that these problems shouldn’t reach the point of by-law enforcement getting involved, but adding, “I believe that landlords and tenants should be held accountable for their properties.” She advocated increasing noise fines, something Council wasn’t certain they could do, because fines have to be approved by the Province.
Ms Middleton also mentioned that the purchase agreement of many of the home-owners in their area stipulated that their properties not be used as rentals for a period of twenty years, a matter she was looking into as possible answer to their dilemma.
The issue of student behaviour would arise almost exclusively to other areas, although the by-law doesn’t address tenant behaviour, but only safety and property maintenance issues, something that subsequent presenters avoided addressing, despite repeated prompts by Mayor Luciani.
Arun Pathak, President of the Hamilton & District Apartment Association, claimed that “disservice would be done to the City if something ineffective” should be done, postulating that there would have been a great number people from out of the area at the party, including minors. He went on to say that landlords have no control over the the tenants. Then he vered from discussion of the by-law to maintain that there should be more purpose-built student residences, and then that the responsibility rested more with the university, whose teachers should be able to teach responsibility to their students. Mayor Luciani prompted Mr. Pathak to address safety, who concluded by saying that more rental buildings would mean less students in converted homes and, almost as an aside, that these fees would raise rents, while pointing out that most landlords are honest, hard-working people.
In addressing Mr. Pathak’s concern about responsibility, Councillor Sergio Paone, a Brock teacher, asked if the Association reprimands members who are constantly being fined. The answer was that no, they don’t, but maybe later on.
Wally Janzen, a self-described 20-year landlord with numerous homes, agreed, but not with licensing. He agreed with by-laws, he said, and compared the licensing process to buying a licence plate for one’s car: it won’t stop speeding, he said.
Robert Di Lallo, of the law firm Daniel & Partners LLP Lawyers, said that he reviewed the by-law and found an inconsistency which had to do with definitions, and suggested that it might require multiple licences per building and that there is no schedule of fines. The Mayor responded that there is only one charge per building and that the reason there is no schedule of fines is that they have to first be approved by the Province.
Mr. Di Lallo also addressed the inappropriateness of licensing to stop bad student behaviour, an additional and redundant level of bureaucracy that would just serve to cost the landlords more money. In reply to the suggestion of cost, Mayor Luciani asked if the City shouldn’t be taxing the buildings as businesses instead of residences. “Your clients aren’t paying enough,” he said. After a period of silence, Mr. Di Lallo replied, “That’s irrelevant.”
Redundancy was also the main theme of Niagara Real Estate Investment Association President Maria Rekrut and pleaded that landlords aren’t very wealthy and can sometimes barely pay the bills.
Ms Rekrut was followed by a local resident to claimed he wasn’t taking sides but that “We are a community and we are one people.” He also expressed concern about redundancy, asking, “Is this a knee-jerk reaction to something that may resolve itself?”
Once these presentations were done, it came time for Council to discuss the motion, led by Councillor Ugulini, a long-time supporter of the By-law, who commented that good landlords should support the move and not expect the City to place the cost of by-law enforcement on the shoulders of the taxpayers. “You’ll come off looking like a shining star,” he said. And, for those who suggested that the by-law is discriminatory, he pointed out that it will be applied equally to all residential rentals.
Councillor Longo agreed, asserting that this wasn’t about a party that happened a few weeks ago. “It’s been in the works for years,” he said.
Asked to clear up the question about whether the landlords would be paying by the unit or by the building, Senior Planner Eldon Darbyson said that it was by the building and that the building with eight rooms would pay the same as the building with two. And, asked by Councillor Paone if a restriction on the number of rooms couldn’t be included in the by-law, Mr. Darbyson replied that a land use by-law would be more appropriate.
The question was called on a recorded voted with all Councillors (except Councillor Shawn Wilson, who was absent due to continuing health issues) and the Mayor voting in favour. The by-law now goes back to the planning staff, who will consider the additional remarks, and then present the final by-law in regular Council on November 21.
To police the new system, Council voted to hire two additional by-laws officers at a cost of $152,626 for 2018, the cost expected to be repaid by the licensing fees. The programme is to be monitored on a ongoing basis for effectiveness and sufficiency, with regular reports to Council.