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Rooming House Licensing By-law Review

Project Status: 
Underway

Introduction

This discussion paper outlines issues with respect to rooming houses and private home conversions within the city of Ottawa. Feedback collected from this paper will be used to assist in the review of Schedule 26 to the Licensing By-law respecting rooming houses, currently underway. A report with recommendations will be submitted to the Community and Protective Services Committee and Council in early 2018.

Background

Licensing By-law

In 2002, Council enacted By-law No. 2002-189, known as the Licensing By-law, respecting the licensing, regulating and governing of certain businesses, including several Schedules that regulated specific business types.

In 2008, Schedule 26 relating to rooming houses was added to the Licensing By-law including the following definitions:

  • residential use building
  • rooming house
  • rooming house converted
  • rooming house owner
  • rooming unit

Schedule 26 to the Licensing By-law (No. 2002-189, as amended) requires that every owner of a rooming house obtain a license and sets out the following conditions for the issuance of a rooming house license:

  • the applicant is at least eighteen (18) years of age
  • the premises comply with zoning, building and property standards requirements of the City
  • the applicant has provided a report from the Chief Building Official confirming there are no outstanding orders related to the building
  • the Fire Chief has reported in writing that the premises are suitable for the purpose of the license application and comply with all applicable fire regulations
  • the Medical Officer of Health has reported in writing that the premises are suitable for the purpose of the license application, comply with all applicable health regulations and are in a sanitary condition
  • the applicant has provided the original documents dated less than ninety (90) days prior to the date of the application for a license, from the appropriate agency outlining the results of investigations related to the applicant for a Police Records Check for the Service with the Vulnerable Sectors
  • the applicant has provided proof of insurance
  • the applicant has provided the required indemnification
  • the applicant has provided the name and telephone number of the agent of the rooming house owner
  • the applicant has paid the fees outlined in Schedule “A” of the Licensing By-law

Rooming house licenses expire annually. The conditions of license renewal include:

  • the premises comply with the property standards requirements of the City
  • ​if deemed necessary by the Chief License Inspector, the Fire Chief has reported in writing that the premises are suitable for the purpose of the license application and comply with all applicable fire regulations
  • ​if deemed necessary by the Chief License Inspector, the Medical Officer of Health has reported in writing that the premises are suitable for the purpose of the license application, comply with all applicable health regulations and are in a sanitary condition
  • the applicant has provided proof of insurance
  • the applicant has provided the required indemnification
  • the applicant has provided the name and telephone number of the agent of the rooming house owner
  • the applicant has paid the fees outlined in Schedule “A” of the Licensing By-law

​The Chief License Inspector (Director of By-law & Regulatory Services) may, upon issuance or renewal of a license, impose additional conditions with respect to rooming houses as deemed necessary to ensure public safety. If, in the opinion of the Chief License Inspector following a review of relevant investigations and/or inspections, the applicant’s actions are adverse to the public interest or to public safety, the Chief License Inspector may refuse issuance, or the renewal, of the license.

An applicant or licensee in receipt of a notice of refusal may, within fourteen (14) days of having been served the notice, apply in writing for a review by the License Committee of the refusal to issue or renew the license applied for by filing the request for a review with the Chief License Inspector. Any breaches of the Licensing By-law by the licensee may also be reported to the License Committee by the Chief License Inspector to consider the status of the license.

Upon receipt of an application or reporting to the License Committee, the Chief License Inspector will determine a date with the Committee Coordinator of the License Committee for the review hearing, which shall take place at least fourteen (14) days later. General regulations related to rooming houses include requirements such as:

  • Posting of the license in a prominent location so that it is clearly visible
  • The door of each individual rooming unit has a functional view finder
  • Every new tenant is provided with relevant printed information including the rights and responsibilities of tenants under legislation
  • Every tenant is provided with a secure location or manner in which to receive personal mail
  • An emergency evacuation plan is posted on each floor of the rooming house and is visible to all tenants and visiting public.

The administration and enforcement of the Licensing By-law are pursuant to the Municipal Act, 2001 (“the Act”). Any person in contravention of any provision of this by-law may be found guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine of up to $25,000 as provided for in the Act. Where a corporation is convicted of an offence under this by-law, the maximum penalty that may be imposed on the corporation is $50,000. In addition to any other penalty, a license issued under the authority of this by-law may be suspended or revoked.

Issues Associated with Rooming Houses

Common concerns with respect to rooming houses include: lack of parking spaces, excessive noise, increased traffic, garbage accumulation and other property standards issues. There are currently 93 licensed rooming houses within the city of Ottawa.

By-law and Regulatory Services received 200 complaints about rooming houses on average annually, the majority of which relate to alleged illegal or unlicensed rooming houses.Other municipalities such as the City of London, Oshawa and Waterloo have implemented licensing of residential rental units in order to address and attempt to minimize such concerns.

City Council has approved that staff undertake a comprehensive review of the licensing of residential room rentals, short-term rentals (i.e. Airbnb) and shared accommodations work on which will commence in 2018.

Issues for this Review

Issues raised as part of the 2015 By-law Review Strategy include the regulation of “rooming houses” and clarification with respect to determining at what point the rental of a space in a house to recover costs becomes a commercial business. Rental of a room where the owner occupies the property would not be considered a “rooming house” and would therefore not be considered a “commercial business”. Typically, in rooming houses, the owner does not occupy the dwelling and will rent each room to individuals with no direct relationship to one another and collect rent individually per room rented. A number of other requirements are applied to rooming houses under the licensing regime.

As similar issues are covered in the Zoning By-law (2008-250, as amended), it will be considered as part of this Review. The R4 Zoning Review currently underway is zone specific; however, the definitions and recommendations would apply city-wide and should be taken into consideration as part of the review of Schedule 26 related to Rooming Houses.
 

Scope

The scope of this review is defined by the issues identified by Council in the By-law Review Strategy Report adopted in June 2015. These include:

  • Definition of “rooming house”
  • Illegal rooming houses and private home conversions

Definition of "Rooming House"

Clarification is being sought on the definition of a “rooming house”. Staff has been asked to examine the use of rooming houses as a part of the affordable housing continuum, versus rooming houses as a student housing option.

Background

The existing definitions pertaining to the rooming house regulation found in the Licensing By-law, as well as in the Zoning By-law, cause difficulties with enforcement and proving that a property fits within the current criteria of a “rooming house” rather than a “single household unit”. The wording, specifically “within the whole of a building”, is problematic as a property may not meet the intent of a dwelling unit, but does not fit within the current definition of a rooming house either.

Under the Licensing By-law, “rooming house” is currently defined as:

“a principle dwelling within the whole of a residential use building that contains at least four rooming units available to be occupied for compensation and which may also contain dwelling units and an administration office accessory to the operation of the house and includes a rooming house, converted”.

The Zoning By-law defines a “rooming house” as:

“a principle dwelling within the whole of a residential use building that contains at least four rooming units, and which may also contain dwelling units and an administration office accessory to the operation of the house”.

A private home conversion would be considered a “rooming house, converted”, defined by the Licensing By-law as:

“the whole of a residential use building or the whole part of any other building that was converted to a rooming house”.

Under the Zoning By-law, “rooming house, converted” is defined as:

“the whole of a residential use building or the whole or part of any other building that was converted to a rooming house”.

The introduction of clearly defined terms would assist By-law Officers in identifying rooming houses that are operating without a license in contravention of the by-law. Clarity in what qualifies as a rooming house would provide an Officer with the ability to distinctly recognize whether or not a rental property is operating as a “single housekeeping unit” and require that properties not operating as such meet the necessary standards in order to obtain a license, including but not limited to yearly inspections.

Options

A. Add new definitions and amend existing definitions

Align proposed definitions with the R4 Zoning Review currently underway in order to provide clarity, consistency and to facilitate the identification of true rooming houses. The R4 Zoning Review is seeking to provide clarity for enforcement through the revised definitions. As this directly relates to the scope of the Licensing By-law Review pertaining to rooming houses and private home conversions, it is important to ensure consistency in the various by-laws to avoid any possible confusion or ambiguity with interpretation. The definitions being proposed are as follows:

New defined terms:

  • “Bedroom” means a room used or designed for use primarily for sleeping.
  • “Residential unit” means a self-contained set of rooms located in a building,designed to be lived in by one or more persons, and which contains sleeping, kitchen and bathroom facilities that are intended for the exclusive use of the residents of the unit.
  • “Single housekeeping unit” means a person or group of people who:
    1. may or may not be related;
    2. live together as a household;
    3. exercise a meaningful degree of collective decision-making and responsibility for the management of the interior of the dwelling unit
  • “Oversized Dwelling Unit” means a residential unit that:
    1. is used or intended for use as a residential premises by a single housekeeping unit and not more than three roomers or boarders; and
    2.  contains more than four bedrooms, but no more than eight bedrooms.

Existing terms to be amended:

  • “Dwelling Unit” means a residential unit that:
    1. is used or intended for use as a residential premises by a single housekeeping unit and not more than three roomers or boarders; and
    2. contains no more than four bedrooms.
  • “Rooming house” means a residential unit, other than a group home or retirement home, that:
    1. is not used or intended for use as a residential premises by a single housekeeping unit; or
    2. contains more than four bedrooms if located in a building that does not permit an oversized dwelling unit, or more than eight bedrooms if located in a building that permits an oversized dwelling unit
  • “Detached Dwelling” means a residential use building that contains only one principal dwelling unit or oversized dwelling unit.
  • “Residential Use Building” means a building composed solely of residential units; and residential use and residential premises have corresponding meanings.

OR,

B. Status quo

The current definitions relating to the rooming house regulation in the Licensing By-law are sufficient to determine whether a property is operating as a rooming house. Often when By-law Officers, Fire and Building Inspectors, or Zoning staff suspect a property is a rooming house and the matter is brought before the courts, the fault lies in the definitions of “dwelling unit” and “rooming house” in addition to the fact that “single housekeeping unit” has been given no definition. Despite the appearance of being a rooming house, the lack of clarity in the current definitions almost always results in the said property not meeting the criteria and in unsuccessful prosecutions. This has been the experience not only in Ottawa, but other municipalities such as The City of Waterloo (Good v. City of Waterloo, 2003), Orillia (Balmoral Developments Hilda Inc. v. Corporation of the City of Orillia, 2012) and St. Catherines (21619707 Ontario Inc. v. City of St. Catherines et. al., 2010).

 

Illegal Rooming Houses and Private Home Conversions

The rental of single family homes within tight perimeters of areas with large student populations should be reviewed to prevent the creation of illegal rooming houses. Staff has been asked to identify a solution to address this issue.

Background

Managing the enforcement of illegal rooming houses and private home conversions can be challenging. If the properties are not licensed, the City has no way of knowing, or proving, that a property is operating as a “rooming house” rather than a “single housekeeping unit”. Further, power of entry is often a limiting factor in investigations of suspected rooming houses. Currently, the only robust distinction between a dwelling unit (“single housekeeping unit”) and a rooming house is that tenants in a single housekeeping unit act as a collective with respect to decision-making and are usually all on one lease. Typically, rooming houses are rented per room with each tenant having their own separate lease with the property owner. This is problematic from both a By-law and Zoning perspective as Section 35 of the Planning Act, 1990 does not allow for distinctions to be made on whether or not occupants are related.

Rooming houses, especially those operating illegally, often have higher incidence of vermin control issues, property standards and maintenance issues, along with other sub-standard living conditions as they are not subject to the same annual inspections as those that are licensed. Having a tool in place to easily determine whether or not a property is operating as a rooming house will provide more pressure on property owners to maintain their property in order to pass the yearly inspections and be able to renew their license. Any properties that are found to be operating as an unlicensed rooming house would be in violation of the Licensing By-law and may be prosecuted.

There has been an increasing demand for affordable housing in Ottawa, especially near post-secondary institutions as there has been a significant growth in enrollment. On-campus housing for students has become more challenging and has resulted in an increase in multiple-unit dwellings being created from existing housing, with rooms being rented to students in neighbourhoods that are in close proximity to colleges and universities.

Options

A. Any residential unit that doesn't meet the definition of another type of property will be considered, by default, a rooming house

The proposal would be to align the proposed definitions of the R4 Zoning Review where, if a property does not meet the definition of another type of property (i.e. group home or retirement home), it will be considered, by default, a rooming house. This will make it easier to identify and enforce illegal conversions where the property is operating a rooming house under the guise of a “single housekeeping unit” or other property type not subject to licensing regulation. Additionally, this option will assist in avoiding further issues with property owners that claim to be operating a “group home” (licensed by the Province) in attempt to avoid further licensing regulation involved with operating as a rooming house. This would apply city-wide and allow for the proper tools in identifying true “rooming houses”.

OR,

B. License rental housing located in close proximity to post-secondary schools

When dealing with a certain demographic, it is essential to consider the Ontario Human Rights Code in order to maintain the rights of code-protected individuals, as seen in other municipalities. For example, the City of Waterloo refers to the Ontario Human Rights Code in its by-law and notes one of the purposes in licensing rental units is to protect the rights, and health and safety of the people residing in rental units. The City of Waterloo implemented the Residential Rental Housing Licensing By-law in 2012. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (“OHRC”) was concerned that such a licensing regime would be discriminatory and initiated an inquiry. The “Report on the Inquiry into Rental Housing Licensing in the City of Waterloo” commends the City of Waterloo for taking a number of positive steps, including applying its residential licensing by-law city-wide and providing continuous education for the public and landlords about their rights and responsibilities. Additionally, the City committed to monitoring the impact of the by-law by way of a formal five-year review and weekly meetings with staff directly involved in overseeing the rental housing licensing program.

The City of Oshawa established Ontario’s first residential licensing system in 2008 and requires that residential rental properties located within a defined rental area in the vicinity of Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology be licensed with the City. Human rights concerns were raised, as this by-law only applies to areas around post-secondary institutions creating a vulnerability to human rights challenges. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) looked into the practice of residential rental licensing within close proximity to post-secondary institutions. Although the OHRC supports the City’s effort to alleviate tensions between homeowners and students as well as many aspects of the Student Accommodation Strategy, there are still concerns that students are being targeted to move away from single detached homes in areas surrounding the university and college. The OHRC perspective is that neighbourhoods should be inclusive of all groups and that the rights of everyone in the community should be respected, regardless of the neighbourhoods characteristics. Limitations on students still exist in this licensing regime and have been deemed problematic from a human rights perspective.

To require residential rental units within close proximity to post-secondary institutions obtain a license, the City of Ottawa would be risking potential human rights challenges. The Ontario Human Rights Commission recommends in its report “Room for Everyone Human Rights and Rental Housing Licensing” that a by-law that may target a group of people (i.e. students) be applied to every part of the municipality to avoid susceptibility to being found discriminatory, contrary to the Human Rights Code.

A broader review of landlord licensing will be considered as part of the review of the licensing of residential room rentals, short-term rentals (i.e. Airbnb) and shared accommodations, work on which will commence in 2018.

Rooming House Licensing By-law Consultation

Posted: 
Monday, February 5, 2018, 4:39 pm
Last updated: 
Monday, February 12, 2018, 3:20 pm

Dates & Times

Wednesday, February 21, 2018,
6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Location

McNabb Recreation Centre
Assembly Hall
Ottawa, ON

A couple of issues with respect to rooming house licensing were raised as part of the By-law Review Strategy approved by Council in 2015. This review therefore focuses on those issues, which include: the definition of rooming house, as well as the identification of illegal rooming houses.

Input is being collected in a variety of convenient ways for residents and other stakeholders to share their views.  Participants are encouraged to review the discussion paper and complete the online survey

Survey - Rooming House Licensing By-law

Posted: 
Thursday, February 8, 2018, 3:13 pm
Last updated: 
Thursday, February 8, 2018, 4:25 pm

Dates & Times

Tuesday, February 6, 2018, 3:15 pm to Friday, March 30, 2018, 5:00 pm

A couple of issues with respect to rooming house licensing were raised as part of the By-law Review Strategy approved by Council in 2015. This review therefore focuses on those issues, which include: the definition of rooming house, as well as the identification of illegal rooming houses.

Input is being collected in a variety of convenient ways for residents and other stakeholders to share their views. Participants are encouraged to review the discussion paper and complete the online survey.