The City of Waterloo Proposed Rental Housing Licensing Bylaw
Lots of real estate investors have been following Waterloo’s proposed Rental Housing by-law process with great interest – after all, it has the potential to have a massive impact on all tenants, landlords, investors and homeowners in Waterloo.
Since the Municipal Act was passed in 2007, the City has the authority to license and regulate residential rental property; this by-law is the result of that Ontario provincial law.
Licensed Lodging Houses To Be Grandfathered
As many know, the first draft that came out in January was quickly deemed unacceptable by council and citizens alike.
One of the most vocal groups were small individual investors who owned legal licensed (& safe!) student rentals near WLU and University of Waterloo campus; the first draft outlawed these properties (seriously!).
Council quickly realized that a precedent has always existed in Waterloo of grandfathering in properties to make them legal non confirming to new regulations, if they were legal and existed at the time of the zone/bylaw change.
In this draft, licensed lodging houses that meet the current Licensing guidelines & zoning are fully grandfathered in; they will have to continue to meet the new by-law standards including appropriate operational management.
This has put many landlords at ease. However, many of us still have large concerns surrounding the proposed legislation.
The Effect On People Who Can’t Afford To Buy A Home
My biggest concern with this by-law is that it limits where people can live based on how much money they have – if you can afford to buy a home, you can live in whatever family home you want, and your family of 5 (the size of my family growing up) or – gasp even 6 (we were with a mother 0f 6 kids last night, so families this size & bigger are living in our region now!) can live in the family home you choose. If you rent, you won’t have that right.
Let me repeat that. Under the proposed by-law, a family that rents does not have the same freedom of home choice as a family that is wealthy enough to purchase a house.
A wealthy family of 6 that owns can live in whatever house they want. A family of 6 that cannot afford to purchase land can only live in some properties, in some areas.
To quote my friend Jacki Yovanoff, “What the what?”
Yup. Renters won’t have the same freedom & ability to choose where to live.
I am certain that this is not the intention of Mayor Halloran and City Council, but it seems to be the major unintended consequence.
Let me explain: The City wants to limit the number of students that live together in one unit. Problem is that a recent court case has made clear that the City doesn’t have that ability.
As per the Planning Act, the City cannot differentiate between a group of 4 people who have chosen to live together and identify as a ‘household unit,’ and a family which lives as a household unit. People can decide to live in whatever arrangement they want. Your living arrangement shouldn’t be policed by the state.
To quote the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “People should be able to share a bedroom without the scrutiny of the landlord or the City”
The City also cannot differentiate between students and other adults, since that is a clear form of discrimination. Four 22 year olds have the same right to decide to live together as a household unit, as four 35 yr olds do.
So, the City is engaging in some logical contortion to try to justify the number. Here is what they’ve done.
The City says that the median family size in Waterloo is 3, and the median number of bedrooms in single unit dwellings is 3; thus, the cap of 3 bedrooms per dwelling is “appropriate.”
This despite the 7000+ single unit dwellings that are legally built with 4 or more bedrooms. This despite that median means the middle number – median family size of 3 means that half the distribution is above that!
The chart below is from the city. The highlights, arrows and comments are mine.
I love that last highlighted line. Let families of 5 go live in one of the 3000 units with 5 bedrooms – in student apartment buildings.
Charming. Much better to raise a family there than in a house …. </sarcasm>
The proposed by-law discriminates against people who can’t afford to purchase a home.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has already registered concerns, and a representative from OHRC is scheduled to speak Monday at the Council meeting (contact me for details if you’d like to attend).
Here is a sampling of the OHRC letter to the City:
“The City’s rationale for keeping the three-bedroom cap is that
demographic data shows that the average “family” size is three and the
median number of bedrooms per residential unit is three.
However, by relying on averages and medians, the City is overlooking
the real demographic and social distinctions that should be
To truly accommodate the diversity of families and households, and
make communities inclusive, we have to acknowledge and plan for
families and households that may not fall within the “average.”
Family or household size can be strongly influenced by ethnic origin,
ancestry, religion and place of origin – which are all grounds of the
[Human Rights] Code”
In case there is any confusion about whether or not the City means this to apply to all renting households, including families, and not just students, check out the email exchange below.
The original email from a concerned Waterloo citizen is at the bottom, asking if two families can rent 4 bed homes next to each other, and if a 6 person family can live in a low density zone.
The City clearly refers to all families as households – remember, they’re not allowed to differentiate – and confirms that two families with 3 kids each cannot live within 150 metres of each other.
To quote Jacki again – “What the what?”
Read the email for yourself: (click on the image to see full size)
If this by-law was in place in Montreal in the 1950′s, my family may have been homeless. Like many families that immigrated from Europe, money was tight and 3 generations had to live under one roof (7 people!). Their entire street was full of hard working families like my grandparents that came over from “the old country” and wanted to live near each other – that would be *illegal* in Waterloo if this by-law passes.
This proposed by-law is unnecessary, and causes more problems than it solves.
Waterloo already has by-laws on the books to deal with fire safety, property standards and building code.
There is already provincial legislation that deals with the relationship between a tenant and a landlord.
I agree that there are legitimate issues because current by-laws aren’t being enforced; the solution is to enforce them, not pass cumbersome & unneeded legislation!
For information on Monday’s meeting, or for a copy of the bylaw, send me an email or leave a comment below.