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Rental Accommodations Study

Project Status: 
Underway

Rental housing conditions

Emergency and Protective Services is conducting a review of regulations governing private sector rental properties to address public health and safety, consumer protection, community nuisances and other areas of municipal concern.

This review includes a review of policy options to address housing conditions, student housing, rooming houses and shared accommodations.

Current status

The first staff report and recommendations were published on November 5 and will be presented at a Special Meeting of the Community and Protective Services Committee on November 15:

City Hall
110 Laurier Ave West
Council Chambers
9 a.m.

The report will be considered by City Council on November 27th.

Following Council’s decisions on the recommended regulatory frameworks, staff will develop the required by-laws, policies and procedures as directed. Final by-laws will be submitted for Council approval beginning in early 2020.

Rental housing conditions

Approximately 1/3 of Ottawa’s residents live in rental housing.

For many, rental housing provides a flexible and affordable alternative to home ownership. For some, rental housing brings unwelcome challenges based on the quality, availability and affordability of rental units that meet their needs.

While the Province of Ontario regulates most aspects of the relationship between tenants and landlords, the City of Ottawa has enacted a number of by-laws which directly or indirectly regulate rental housing. These include:

  • The Building By-law (2014-220) regulates the administration and enforcement of the Ontario Building Code Act, 1992 respecting the construction, renovation or any change of use of buildings and designated structures.
  • The Heat By-law (2010-210) regulates the maintenance of adequate heat in rented dwelling accommodations.
  • The Licensing By-law (2002-189), Schedule 26 licenses and regulates rooming houses.
  • The Property Maintenance By-law (2005-208) regulates the clearing and cleaning of refuse, debris or snow and ice from all properties.
  • The Property Standards By-law (2013-416) prescribes standards under which properties are to be maintained. This by-law regulates residential properties, non-residential properties, vacant buildings, vacant lands, open space land, and Heritage Properties.

The City is currently considering whether updates to these by-laws or new by-laws are required to effectively manage public health and safety, consumer protection and community nuisances related to rental accommodations.

The City will consider how proposed changes in regulation influence three key factors:

Quality

  • Are the current property standards appropriate for rental housing?
  • How can the City work to ensure these standards are met more consistently?

Availability

  • Can regulatory changes encourage more investment in private residential rental properties, or protect existing housing?
  • Do existing or proposed regulations discourage investment in rental housing or encourage loss of existing housing?
  • How are Short-Term Rentals affecting the availability of private market residential rental units?
  • How are vacant properties affecting the availability of private market residential rental units?

Affordability

  • How would regulatory changes impact housing costs?
  • How is gentrification impacting rental costs and what role should the municipality play in managing resulting issues like “renovictions”?

The scope of this study is limited to regulations for private sector rental housing. Changes to social housing policies or funding are not included in this review. The study is also not considering changes to regulations for group homes, long-term care facilities or other forms of assisted living. Community input on these issues will be referred to Community and Social Services department.

Similarly, the study will not address development or other land-use planning considerations. Planning issues arising from the study will be referred to the Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development department for consideration in the new Official Plan and other studies, such as the Residential Fourth Density (R4) Zoning Review.

A Rental Accommodations Working Group is coordinating activities and sharing information across six City departments:

  • Community and Social Services
  • Corporate Services
  • Emergency and Protective Services
  • Office of the City Clerk
  • Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development
  • Service Innovation and Performance Department

Student Housing and Shared Accommodations

Ottawa is fortunate to host five exceptional post-secondary institutions.

Canada ranks first among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member nations in terms of population with post-secondary education.

Ottawa leads the way, with more graduates than any other Canadian city.

Access to highly skilled and trained graduates, and the ability to collaborate with educational institutions, makes Ottawa highly desirable for employers.

This has helped fuel our ongoing achievement of high living standards and our reputation as one of the best cities in the world to live, invest and raise a family.

Over the last decade, Ottawa has seen an unprecedented growth in student population. While this growth has largely benefited our economy and culture, these benefits have not come without challenges:

  • The City’s low vacancy rate and increasing rental costs have made it more difficult for students to find affordable housing, especially in neighbourhoods near post-secondary institutions.
  • A lack of affordable units has led to instances of overcrowding
  • Property developers have created high-density “bunkhouses” in low profile communities which traditionally included family accommodation
  • Conflicts between students and neighbours has increased demand for by-law enforcement

Recently, a number of student-focused housing developments have helped ease pressure on the availability and affordability of private market rental housing. At the same time the City has taken measures to prohibit further bunkhouse development. (See: Residential Fourth Density (R4) Zoning Review)

The Rental Accommodations Study is not intended to address housing supply. However, the study will examine the role housing supply has played in creating the above noted challenges and consider regulatory changes to better manage these challenges moving forward.

Rooming houses

There are more than 1,300 licensed rooming house units in the City. Concentrated in the urban core, rooming houses are an important piece of the housing continuum.

Rooming Houses serve a broad array of low-income residents and help to alleviate pressure on the social housing system.

Historically, the quality of rooming houses has varied greatly. Some units are exceptionally well run, providing quality housing that is well integrated into the community.

Other rooming houses have been very problematic. These providers deliver low-quality, accommodations that risk the health and safety of tenants. Many rooming house tenants have addictions and mental health issues, which can increase conflict between tenants, and between tenants and landlords.

Beginning in January 2019, the City of Ottawa has dedicated a Property Standards Officer to inspect and enforce rooming house regulations on a full-time basis.

In addition to this important measure to improve rooming house standards, the Rental Accommodations Study will examine the current regulations to identify opportunities to improve living conditions for tenants.

The City is also considering options to address unlicensed rooming houses and multiple room rentals within single households.

Short-term rental providers

The growing popularity of short-term rental services, such as Airbnb and VRBO, has created new opportunities and challenges for Ottawa and its residents. The City is currently considering the best way to manage this emerging industry. This component of the study will also consider possible changes to hotel/motel regulations.

Current status

The first staff report and recommendations were published on November 5 and will be presented at a Special Meeting of the Community and Protective Services Committee on November 15:

City Hall
110 Laurier Ave West
Council Chambers
9 a.m.

The report will be considered by City Council on November 27th.

Following Council’s decisions on the recommended regulatory frameworks, staff will develop the required by-laws, policies and procedures as directed. Final by-laws will be submitted for Council approval beginning in early 2020.

Background

The emergence of short-term accommodation rentals in private dwellings through on-line platforms such as Airbnb and Expedia has changed the landscape of the hospitality industry. In doing so, this new industry has created both opportunities and challenges for residents of Ottawa.

For some residents, the financial opportunities created through online short-term rentals have increased their housing security and enhanced their quality of life.

Some communities have also benefited through increased tourism outside of the traditional tourist districts in the City.

The zoning by-law currently prohibits short-term rentals of complete units in all residential zones. However, there has been rapid growth of short-term rentals, which has brought some new problems:

  • neighbourhood disruption from “party houses”
  • units devoted full time to short-term rentals removes housing supply and contributes to higher long-term rents
  • short-term rentals causing issues for landlords and condominium boards who do not want them in their buildings
  • safety concerns related to overcrowding

Through the Rental Accommodations Study, the City will develop recommendations for the best strategy to manage these issues. Key considerations include:

  • What are the economic benefits of short-term rentals?
  • How are short-term rentals impacting the private rental housing market?
  • What factors contribute to successful short-term rental situations and what factors lead to problematic rentals?
  • What are the impacts of short-term rental properties on City services and finances?

Once each of these factors has been considered, staff will provide recommendations to Council. These will include:

  • Should short-term rentals be regulated?
    • If “Yes”, what should the rules be?
    • If “No”, how can the benefits be retained while mitigating the negative impacts?

As the City works to consider regulations for Short-Term Rental services, it is also appropriate to review regulations for hotels, motels and traditional bed and breakfasts.

The City does not currently license hotels, motels or traditional bed and breakfasts. Food premises within hotels are licensed and inspected, and other by-laws such as property standards and property maintenance are also enforced. Should regulation of short-term rentals include regulation of hotels and traditional bed and breakfasts? If so, to address what issues? If not, how can we meaningfully distinguish them from the “Airbnb”-type short term rentals?

The Rental Accommodations Study will consider if existing rules effectively address public health and safety, consumer protection and community nuisance. If gaps are identified, the study will provide recommendations to enhance protection for communities, residents and visitors.

Studies and reports

Review background studies used to inform public policy development related to key rental housing issues.

The issues facing rental housing are complex and often interrelated.

This is why the City has taken a holistic approach to its examination of rental accommodation regulations, supported by extensive research on Ottawa’s rental market.

On this page you will find key reports either commissioned or conducted by the City in support of this study.

If residents or organizations have additional reports that they would like to be considered, please contact bylawreviews@ottawa.ca. English and French language submissions are welcome.

Literature Review and Multi-jurisdictional Environmental Scan (PDF) (Prism Economics and Analysis)

This report provides an overview of leading academic and policy papers on rental housing issues from around the globe, with specific analysis of real-world application in multiple Canadian and American jurisdictions. This report has helped to identify promising approaches to regulation that will be considered as possible strategies to address local issues.

Rental Market Analysis (Prism Economics and Analysis)

This study provides comprehensive data about the local private rental market, including the size and condition of housing inventory, rental rates and changes, vacancy rates and housing demand. This data has been analyzed at the census tract level to provide a detailed understanding of rental conditions on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.

The study also provides important data about short-term rental activity in Ottawa and how it is influencing the availability and affordability of private market rental housing.

This report is being used to evaluate policy approaches identified in the Environmental Scan to help shape policies that best serve the needs of our community. The report is further being utilized to develop cost and resource estimates for proposed regulatory changes.

Beyond policy development, the data and analysis provided through this study is also helping to inform the work of other City initiatives, particularly in Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development and Community and Social Services.

Note: Selected data from the Rental Market Analysis is now available on Open Data.

Rental Housing Conditions – Discussion Paper (PDF) (Maclaren Municipal Consulting)

This paper outlines current issues related to student housing – the need for housing, the housing available, and the conflicts between some students and their neighbours. 

Student Housing - Discussion Paper (PDF) (Maclaren Municipal Consulting)

This paper outlines current issues related to student housing – the need for housing, the housing available, and the conflicts between some students and their neighbours. 

Short-Term Rentals - Discussion Paper (PDF) (Maclaren Municipal Consulting)

This paper outlines the growth of short-term rentals within residential properties, the issues that have emerged with the hotel industry, with neighbours, and opportunities that have developed for travellers and for housing owners.

Rental Housing Policy Options Paper (PDF) (Maclaren Municipal Consulting) – August 2019

This paper presents a series of policy options based on Maclaren’s research and policy analysis as well as community input from the consultations on Rental Housing Conditions and Student Housing and Shared Accommodations. It identifies advantages and disadvantages of each policy option. No determinations have been made about which policy options might be recommended. Residents will have the opportunity to express their views on these options through an online survey, available until September 4, 2019.

Short-Term Rental Options Paper (PDF) (Maclaren Municipal Consulting) – August 2019

This paper presents a series of policy options based on Maclaren’s research and policy analysis as well as community input from the consultations on Short-Term Rentals (like Airbnb and VRBO) and identifies advantages and disadvantages of each policy option. No determinations have been made about which policy options might be recommended. Residents will have the opportunity to express their views on these options through an online survey, available until September 4, 2019.

Property Standards in Rental Housing (City of Ottawa) 

This report provides a ten-year history of service requests associated with private market rental units. This data provides greater understanding of the scope and nature of issues facing tenants and landlords.

This report will help identify gaps in regulation and prioritize issues for policy development. It will also be used by By-law and Regulatory Services to assess service delivery, enforcement protocols and resource allocation.

Regulation of Long-Term Rental Accommodations – Final Report (Maclaren Municipal Consulting) - Sept 2019

This report includes Maclaren Municipal Consulting’s recommendations for the regulation of rental housing in Ottawa. City staff will consider these recommendations and supporting arguments as we develop final recommendations and a report to Community and Protective Services Committee and Council.

Regulation of Short-Term Rental Accommodations – Final Report (Maclaren Municipal Consulting) - Sept 2019

This report includes Maclaren Municipal Consulting’s recommendations for the regulation of short-term rental accommodations. City staff will consider these recommendations and supporting arguments as we develop final recommendations and a report to Community and Protective Services Committee and Council.

Public consultations

Over the past year, the City has been meeting with local advocacy organizations, service providers and industry associations. This work will continue for the duration of the study.

If you represent an organization that would like to contribute to the study, please contact by-lawreviews@ottawa.ca.

There will also be three public consultation periods for this study.

Consultation 1

The first round of consultations concluded on June 30, 2019. This initial consultation sought to identify community concerns related to rental housing conditions, short-term rentals, and student housing and shared accommodations. Twelve public workshops were held, as well as a series of meetings with stakeholder groups. Residents were also invited to complete an online survey and comment form.

Consultation 2

The second round of consultations concluded on September 4, 2019. This consultation asked residents to consider policy options to address the community concerns identified in Consultation 1. Two policy options papers are available, for Rental Housing Conditions and Short-Term Rentals.

Consultation 3

The third and final round of Consultations for the Rental Accommodations Study will begin on October 4.

An online survey will be available here between October 4 and October 18.

In addition, two public meetings have been scheduled:

Rental Housing
Ben Franklin Place
October 22, 6-8 pm

Short-Term Rental Accommodations
Nepean Sportsplex
October 23, 6-8 pm

Members of the public are invited to consider the Studies and Reports released to date and will be asked to express their views on key findings by staff. This will inform staff recommendations to Council, which will be published in early November.

About the Rental Accommodations Study

The Rental Accommodations Study was approved by City Council as a component of the 2018 budget. The need for this study arose from several emerging trends, including:

  • concerns expressed by residents and community organizations about the quality and safety of private sector rental housing and how the City addresses these issues
  • growth of requests for service regarding property standards, which have increased 34% over the last 3 years and nearly tripled since the new City of Ottawa formed in 2001 (from 5,045 to 13,543)
  • continued growth of post-secondary institutions and the ability of the City to meet unique housing needs of students
  • the conversion of single unit residential properties into unlicensed rooming houses and other forms of shared accommodations
  • the emergence of short-term accommodation rentals (using on-line platforms such as Airbnb or Expedia) and possible impacts for private market housing availability and affordability, as well as health and safety, community nuisance, property standards and maintenance, and consumer protection considerations
  • the need to review regulations currently in place for hotels, motels and traditional bed and breakfasts

Beginning in late 2018, City staff have been conducting research and working with external consultants to produce required background studies and reports.

A working group was established with key staff from six City departments. This working group helps to ensure that the study is well coordinated with other City initiatives related to rental housing and service delivery.

In early 2019, the City engaged Maclaren Municipal Consulting to conduct an independent assessment of Ottawa’s regulations related to private sector rental housing. This review will help identify potential problems and recommend possible solutions.

Outcome

The aim of this study is to create a regulatory framework that best serves the needs of residents and the local economy.

In all cases, proposed regulations must be enforceable, effective and sustainable:

Enforceable: The City must be able prove a violation exists within the existing powers of enforcement staff.

Effective: Rules must serve a purpose and help manage or resolve specific issues.

Sustainable: The cost of administration and enforcement must be recoverable through fees and may not place undue burden on residents or the economy.

Related City initiatives

The Rental Accommodations Study is focused on regulations for private market rental housing and short-term accommodation providers.

However, regulation can’t resolve every challenge with rental housing. Planning and social services are both crucial elements of addressing housing challenges. The City currently has a number of initiatives underway, including:

Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development (PIED)

R4 Zoning Review Phase 1 (Bunkhouses) Monitoring

Changes to zoning in July 2018 closed loopholes that were producing de facto unlicensed rooming houses ("bunkhouses") in inappropriate locations. PIEDD will be delivering a one-year monitoring report on the effect of these changes in Q2 2019.

R4 Zoning Review, Phase 2 (Missing Middle Review)

Ottawa's R4 family of residential zones is intended to allow the construction of low-rise apartment dwellings and offers the greatest opportunities for building new and affordable urban rental housing. However, recent analysis of the R4 zoning regulations by PIEDD planners reveals flaws that have stifled such development, contributing to a shortage of rentable units near downtown.

The R4 Zoning Review (also known as the Missing Middle review) will "de-bug" the R4 zoning to remove undue obstacles to building low-rise apartments. It is estimated that the R4 review will enable thousands of new units throughout the inner urban area over the coming decades. Public consultations on the Missing Middle Review will begin in Q3 2019 and a zoning amendment will come to Planning Committee in Q1 2020. Interested parties can visit the project page at Ottawa.ca/R4Zoning or contact the file lead at R4Zoning@Ottawa.ca.

Official Plan Review and Housing Policies

A review of the Official Plan is underway and scheduled for completion in 2021. The review includes a focused look at land use policies affecting the supply of housing city-wide. A series of Discussion Papers, including one specifically on housing, may be found at Ottawa.ca/NewOP. The Official Plan team is seeking comments on these papers by May 31.

Community and Social Services

The Housing Services Branch of Community and Social Services offers a range of services to assist eligible residents with their housing needs. Housing Services also develops and administers the City's 10 Year Housing and Homelessness Plan.

This update of this plan is scheduled to begin later this year.