By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton is warning landlords if they don’t clean up their act, the city will introduce a bylaw to license rental units.
“This tells (landlords) they are on notice,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark. “The next step is licensing.”
After over a year of discussion and studying the controversy proposal, politicians agreed to put away the idea of a licensing bylaw for rental units, and instead will spend over $400,000 to beef up its enforcement to eliminate unlicensed rental units.
Councillors faced a wall of opposition from landlord associations, tenants, and even from social service activists who argued a bylaw will increase the city’s homelessness.
The Realtor’s Association of Hamilton-Burlington and the Hamilton District Apartment Association told politicians during an earlier presentation licensing would mean 30 per cent of Hamilton’s rental units will disappear.
“There would be a political impact to the city, and the homelessness would be significant,” said Clark.
City staff had proposed adopting a $100 annual licensing fee that would be delayed until 2017 for landlords with six or fewer units. There are up to 10,000 unlicensed rental units in Hamilton, most of them located in the lower city.
“We are looking at illegal units,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla. “Some of them are death traps. It is a licensing fee not a cash grab. Whatever we collect would be used for enforcement.”
Politicians reluctantly agreed at their Sept. 25 council meeting to cooperate with landlords to eliminate what they termed the “bad apples” that have unlicensed rental properties.
The idea under the plan would be for city staff to “continue to take into consideration; throughout such enforcement, an owner’s good faith efforts to actively seek compliance…” In addition, a stakeholder committee would be created to improve communication between the city and landlords.
It will mean hiring five more staff, including four enforcement officers, at a cost of $275,000, and $160,000 to buy four vehicles.
Clarksaid the proposal is similar to what enforcement officials already do with other bylaws.
Ward 6 councillor Tom Jackson said the city is offering landlords an opportunity to be part of the solution.
“We are going to engage them and hold them to their word,” saidJackson. “I don’t want to hear excuses.”
Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead said he saw both the “sweet and sour” aspect to the proposal.
“It’s not just student housing,” said Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead, who represents and area with hundreds of student housing. “This is an issue that is broader. There are landlords who don’t give a damn about health and licensing.”
Whitehead was hopeful those so-called “good” landlords will co-operate with the city to force bad landlords to shape up.
The veteran councillor has seen rental units that are horrendous, such as individuals living in garages with propane tanks.
“I don’t give a damn about slum landlords,” he said. “But there are good landlords.”
Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, who represents an area that includes student housing issues surroundingMcMasterUniversity, said the city introduced pro-active enforcement pilot program in 2010 despite opposition from landlords. Now they are supportive of the strategy.
“We have come some distance,” said McHattie.
But the councillor said he was concerned that landlords, with their lobbying efforts, won the day to prevent licensing from taking effect in the city. A media campaign, including a postcard containing information was mailed out to homeowners.
“It’s seen they had undue influence,” he said.
Merulla called the information “fabricated” and “nonsense” in an attempt to provide dis-information across the city.
“We are protecting people from death traps,” he said.