Council targets student "ghettos"
Saturday, June 5, 20101 Comment
City council unanimously supported a moratorium on the registration of new accessory apartments and lodging houses, and are ex
Guelph City Council is taking steps to address long-simmering complaints about the proliferation of “student ghettos” in neighbourhoods around the university, supporting a moratorium on the registration of some new rental units.
But student representatives say the plan that is taking shape demonizes young people and may result in higher rental costs in the city.
At last Tuesday’s council meeting, nine delegations representing neighbourhood associations and private residents said that the demand for rental housing was turning entire streets into mostly student enclaves.
Speakers complained that having so many young people living in close proximity was causing enrolment at local public schools to plummet while wild parties proliferated.
Daphne Wainman-Wood, a speaker from the Old University Neighbourhood Residents’ Association, said some areas of the city were turning into “student ghettos” that empty out during the summer.
Ward 5 Councillor Lise Burcher said the issue has been apparent for some time, as property owners take advantage of a loophole that allows them to fill houses with up to six with tenants without having to register them.
“I wouldn’t say they’re skirting around the rules. They’re following the rules as they exist right now. That’s the problem,” Burcher said.
Since 2005, the city has required landlords to obtain a lodging house permit if there are more than four unrelated people living in the same residence. The city also requires a minimum separation distance of 100 metres between adjacent lodging houses.
However, homeowners are not required to register fully-equipped accessory apartments that have separate entrances, such as basement apartments.
As a result, many landlords have converted both the main floor and the basement into separate rental units for students - called “four up, two down” rental houses because of the maximum number of people allowed to live on each level – that allow them to avoid registration requirements.
Such units aren’t inspected by the city, leading to concerns about landlords renting out substandard housing to students, Burcher said.
Adding to the problem, it’s suspected that a larger number of lodging houses in some neighbourhoods like the Old University aren’t legally registered.
Such homogeneity is unhealthy to neighbourhoods, Burcher explained.
“There are many blocks where there are one or two houses with permanent residents in them, and the rest are rental units.”
As a result, city council unanimously supported a moratorium on the registration of new accessory apartments and lodging houses. City staffers have been tasked with reviewing the legality of the motion and bringing forward a bylaw, which Burcher said could happen by the end of June.
Council also agreed to spend between $20,000 and $60,000 to bring in outside legal help to explore options on establishing tighter controls for rental housing in Guelph.
A new bylaw could be ready by the end of August, said Jim Riddell, the city’s director of community design and development services.
Anastasia Zavarella, the Local Affairs Commissioner with the Central Student Association, said she’s concerned that the city is more interested in taking action against student tenants than cracking down on bad landlords.
“We need to separate out students behaving badly and students living close to one another,” Zavarella. “They’re two different things.”
The city has a hard enough time inspecting known lodging houses, and has few mechanisms for punishing those who are breaking the rules, she noted.
“I’m not really hearing anything from the city saying they will guarantee quality housing for renters,” Zavarella said. “It sounds like they’re out not interested in protecting tenants, but rather cleaning up neighbourhoods.”
She said she fears a scenario like in Oshawa, which in 2008 decided to license rooming houses, restrict their location and limit the number of rental rooms per rooming house.
Landlords may pass the costs onto their tenants if they’re forced to downsize and pay for registration fees, she added
Zavarella said the University Administration and the CSA were examining the situation and would be working to draft a response to any plan put forward by the city.
In the meantime, Burcher noted that the city has re-directed $30,000 to bring stronger bylaw enforcement for the rest of 2010 in areas of the city with a history of complaints linked to student housing.
Two additional part-time enforcement officers will be available to take calls regarding noise complaints and related bylaw infractions, she said.