Photo C/O Grace Kuang

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


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Debate over potential licensing by-law continues

On of Nov. 27, the City of Hamilton will be releasing its recommendations for a new housing by-law. While the housing rental by-law is not specifically aimed at targeting students, potential changes include the introduction of a $150 licensing fee, a property standards checklist and a six-person occupancy limit.

These recommendations come after months of consultation between City officials, landlords and the McMaster Students Union. Councilor Brian McHattie spoke to The Silhouette in September and reiterated that the introduction of a licensing fee would guarantee higher property standards and hold landlords accountable to providing safe housing.

“The focus is safe housing. We have unsafe and unpalatable housing across the city,” said McHattie.

However, landlord associations, such as the Hamilton and District Apartment Association (HDAA), have spoken out against the rental licensing costs.

Arun Pathak, President of HDAA, told The Hamilton Spectator on Nov. 7 that the City is not using all of its current tools to crack down on substandard rental units.

In particular, Pathak highlighted Project Compliance, which has seen municipal by-law enforcement officers cracking down on illegal rental units since 2010.

Project Compliance is a pilot project that targeted specific wards, including Ward 1, which includes Westdale.

The MSU issued a press release to alert students to these changes on Nov. 20. Additionally, they have created an online survey for students to list their preferences when it comes to cost of rent, quality of rental property and number of occupants in the rental property.

One third-year Social Sciences student has already been impacted by the controversy surrounding the proposed changes.

This student had been in communication with their landlord and was made aware that a licensing fee was potentially being introduced. The landlord told the student that she would be taking locks off the doors in the rental property and trying to put all the tenants on one lease for the next year, so that the rental property could be classified as a “family dwelling unit” and therefore not be subject to the licensing fee by-law.

In response to this, the student told the Silhouette that he strongly favoured the City licensing and more careful regulation of landlords and rental properties. He has also been in contact with Councillor McHattie’s Office.

While property standards are one part of the controversy, students could also incur additional costs. Currently, the City appears to be setting the fee at $150 per year. The concern is that this cost could be downloaded to students.

Huzaifa Saeed, MSU VP Education, spoke to the Sil in September, stating, “From one angle…this is a good deal for students. This would avoid horror stories with absentee lanlords. From an economic standpoint…what would this do for affordability of rental housing?”

While Hamilton appears to be pursuing the $150 fee, other cities, such as North Bay and Oshawa, have set prohibitively high fees of $300 and $500 respectively.

Both North Bay and Oshawa have also come under fire from the Ontario Human Rights Commission for targeting students in their by-laws and therefore discriminating specifically against student rentals.

Councillor McHattie told The Spectator that he is committed to keeping licensing fees low. The MSU has also continued to be involved in consultations with the City in order to advocate for student interests.

In the near future, students will likely encounter a much more regulated environment when searching for student rental properties.

On Sept. 18, a report proposing a new by-law will be presented to the Planning Committee at City Hall. The proposal seeks to address issues in regulating rental units across the city, and is believed to include a licensing program for all rental units (excluding those in apartment buildings) in the City of Hamilton.

The proposed by-law would begin to be drafted following the Planning Committee meeting and would most likely take shape by the end of November.

Discussion of regulating rental units has been ongoing. The current proposal looks to regulate rental units under the provincial Municipal Act. The intention of the licensing program is to ensure uniform standards for all rental properties across the city.

Rental licensing programs in other municipalities such as the City of Oshawa have sought to monitor property maintenance and ensure proper documentation and insurance.

Student rentals are not the sole target of this proposed by-law but the Westdale Ainsley-Wood and Mohawk-Buchanan-Bonnington-Southam neighbourhoods were specifically identified in earlier planning discussions in 2008.

Both neighbourhoods cater to student populations and experience an influx in residency as a result of the short-term nature of student leases.

Because the by-law itself has yet to be drafted, there have been concerns that another provision may be included which would seek to limit the number of bedrooms in a dwelling unit.

The City of London is the only municipality in Ontario to have limited number of bedrooms to five per dwelling.

Because this type of inclusion falls under a different provincial act, the Planning Act, Councilor Brian McHattie believes that a limitation on number of bedrooms would be discussed under zoning or as a separate by-law.

“The focus is safe housing. We have unsafe and unpalatable housing across the city,” said McHattie.

MSU VP Education Huzaifa Saeed reiterated the positive intent of the proposed by-law and the benefits to students.

“From one angle … this is a good deal for students. This would avoid horror stories with absentee landlords,” said Saeed.

Saeed raised another important question: “From an economic standpoint…what would this do for affordability of [rental] housing? That depends on the licensing fee.”

However, he also noted that it is difficult to fully comment on how this by-law would affect availability of rental property to students until the Sept. 18 meeting. 

Both Councilor McHattie and Saeed stated that the MSU would be and has been a part of the consultation process in the discussion regarding regulating rental units.

A more concrete plan of action will be developed by the MSU following the report to the Planning Committee.

Until the by-law is officially before City Council it remains unknown how deeply this will affect students. While the goal is higher quality student housing, potential repercussions remain a latent issue.


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