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Hamilton’s rental licensing pilot provides more uncertainty as students demand safer housing
The path to achieving safe housing for McMaster University’s students has been one studded with hazards such as predatory landlords, broken fire alarm systems and an overall lack of safety. Nearly every student I know has had their fair share of run-ins with landlords asking for too much and giving too little. Popular platforms for student discussion, such as r/McMaster on Reddit and Spotted at Mac on Facebook, are routinely flooded with warnings to beware of Landlord X, Y, Z . . . and the list goes on.
Has quantifiable progress been made thus far? Yes and no.
McMaster students and the McMaster Students Union have been pushing for increased regulation of landlords for years. On Aug. 10, 2021, it seemed as if student voices had finally been heard. The big news? The Hamilton Planning Committee voted in favour of a two-year rental licensing pilot for Wards 1, 8 and parts of Ward 14 in the city. These wards cover the immediate area around Mohawk College and McMaster University.
Essentially, this means that landlords will now be responsible for paying a $215 licensing fee (in addition to a $77 administration fee) and must submit to both internal and external inspections by the city of Hamilton. Right now, the process in dealing with a housing issue is complaint-based and the tenant carries the burden of filing a dispute.
The current system presents its own set of barriers that tip the scales further towards the whims of landlords that don’t always have our best interests in mind. Quite honestly, even if I did face an issue with my landlord, would I be willing to take time away from academic responsibilities, face the threat of eviction and then wait months on end for a maybe-solution? Not at all.
We all know that finding a house in the first place often takes away time from classes, especially when you’re coordinating the schedules of six or more roommates. If you add up the time spent browsing housing posts, negotiating with landlords and booking viewings, the hunt for subpar housing often takes upwards of 50 hours.
Given all this information, does the licensing pilot provide us with a solution? Supposedly, living conditions will improve. Perhaps, affordability will rise. That being said, the consensus of McMaster students living off-campus is that some aspect of regulation is needed. MSU Vice President Education, Siobhan Teel, teamed up with ACORN Hamilton and the Mohawk Student Association to shed light on the need for this pilot project to go through.
However, it can’t be ignored that increasing fees on landlords (whatever glorious purpose it may serve) can have a detrimental effect on students. If landlords really are as predatory and greedy as we all believe, why wouldn’t they raise rent prices to compensate for their increased costs? Is rental licensing the solution we’re looking for, given that rents already seem to be rising on Facebook pages such as McMaster Student Housing Postboard?
Sure, the licensing pilot definitely has the potential to do some real good. It could lead to cleaner and safer homes, and do away with the antiquated, reactive system of tenant complaints through the Landlord and Tenant Board. Yet it almost seems like we’re playing a game of choosing between one bad outcome and another.
While any progress is appreciated, McMaster students deserve a holistic, all-encompassing solution that solves the issue of both unsafe and unfairly priced housing. Until then, off to the bidding wars we go. The prize: a closet of a room with pests, no fire safety and all the wonderful things McMaster housing has to offer.