By: Elliot Fung
Landlord licensing for rental housing may be coming for students in the near future. If approved by Hamilton city council, a two-year pilot project in wards one and eight will subject landlords to a $200 annual fee and city inspections for their rental units.
In September 2018, the rental housing sub-committee voted in favour of pursuing a rental housing licensing by-law pilot project. Other options considered at the time included increasing rental housing by-law enforcement and introducing a rental registry.
A draft of the by-law is in the works for approval and will be presented to the city council and the public later this year.
This is not the first time landlord licensing has been proposed in Hamilton. In September 2013, a controversial proposal for a city-wide rental housing licensing system was submitted to city council. The draft was abandoned amidst heavy opposition from landlords and affordable housing advocates.
This time, if implemented, the pilot project will only affect wards one and eight, where a significant number of McMaster and Mohawk College students live in rental units.
It is worth noting that McMaster students continue to express frustrations over negligent landlords who do not maintain rental properties and adhere to proper standards of health and safety.
Stephanie Bertolo, the vice president (Education) of the McMaster Students Union, has been involved with extensive consultations about the by-law pilot project and ardently supports landlord licensing. In particular, Bertolo believes that landlord licensing will significantly improve students’ safety and rectify many problems stemming from absentee landlords.
“The MSU has been a strong advocate for rental housing licensing because we believe it will help ensure safer housing for students,” she said. “Landlords should be held accountable by the municipal government for adhering to municipal and provincial laws to ensure students’ quality of life, who are paying to live in the landlords’ properties.”
While the rental housing by-law may serve to strengthen and ensure standards of health and safety are being met, critics of landlord licensing suggest that affordable housing issues would emerge if the pilot project were pursued.
For instance, at the December 2018 planning committee meeting, Arun Pathak, the president of the Hamilton and District Apartment Association, explained that the licensing by-law may result in increased rent for tenants and students looking to rent.
The rental housing sub-committee will be taking into consideration the potential financial implications of landlord licensing.
“[Financial] offsets [for stakeholders] will be discussed with various departments within the city of Hamilton’s economic development department,” said city of Hamilton communications officer Marie Fitzpatrick.
City council will likely update the approval status of the landlord licensing pilot within the next few months. In the meantime, the MSU has been working to introduce other initiatives aimed at addressing McMaster student housing issues.
For instance, a new website for rating rental houses just launched this month.
The MSU hopes that once the wiki garners more popularity, students will be able to make more informed decisions about their housing situation. Students can access and add to the rating system at https://yomes.com/review/mcmaster.