Licensing our landlords

Proposed bylaw would safeguard students, ease town-gown tension, councillor says

A. J. Keilty, Kingston Rental Property Owners’ Association president, says his group proposes changing zoning bylaws.
A. J. Keilty, Kingston Rental Property Owners’ Association president, says his group proposes changing zoning bylaws.

Sydenham ward councillor Bill Glover hopes a new working group tasked with addressing town-gown relations will propose a bylaw requiring students’ landlords to obtain licences.

The proposed bylaw would require potential landlords for students to have a licence in order to rent their property, subject to property inspections.

The group, established by a motion Glover brought forward in November, is supposed to explore the Aberdeen Street party and student housing issues. It’s expected to report to council in March.

Glover said the potential bylaw would only affect student housing areas. The group will decide which areas will be considered student housing areas.

The extra cost of licensing and inspections, as well as resulting mandatory renovations, could be added to students’ rent. Under the Residential Tenancies Act, landlords are limited to a 1.4 per cent rent increase each year but can apply for a larger rent increase to offset municipal taxes and charges, which licensing costs fall under.

Glover, whose ward includes Queen’s campus and much of the Ghetto, said the licensing system will work in favour of responsible landlords so they pay less than irresponsible landlords.

He said he would also suggest a licence last for the duration of a tenant’s lease so landlords aren’t paying for new licences frequently. This will also give landlords incentive to have students stay with them for the duration of their stay in Kingston, he said.

“If you’ve got a good landlord, once you’ve said Apartment X at ABC Street is above board and OK, I’m not certain we need to go back and inspect that with every tenancy,” Glover said. “But if you’ve got a slum landlord, you probably do want to be going back with every tenancy making sure it’s all right.”

Glover said the bylaw is a safeguard for students to ensure they’re being offered good housing.

Tenants can make complaints with property standards inspectors with the city, but students rarely do.

“Because students aren’t inviting in property standard officers to inspect their houses, this is an initiative coming from the city … to make certain that student accommodation is at least habitable.”

He said if the bylaw’s successful he wants to see it introduced for the entire city.

“There’s a strong case that can be made for beginning with an area around Queen’s, work out the kinks there and then expand it out,” he said.

Glover said the working group also hopes this will eliminate such town-gown tensions as the Aberdeen Street party during Homecoming weekend.

“Certainly in past years students have said that property standards are a part of the whole thing,” he said. “I’m not certain it has a direct relationship but I do think it’s something that needs to be done.”

Glover said he hopes the licensing system will bring more families back into the Ghetto.

House prices are based on their potential for rent intake based on the number of rooms in the house. Some landlords currently rent more rooms illegally and this raises the price of the house.

Glover said this makes living in the Ghetto unaffordable for many families.

“If you reduce the value of the house, you make it feel more attractive for families who feel they are forced out because they can’t afford to pay,” he said. “You can have families and students living side by side with mutual benefits to all parties.”

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane is one of the University’s representatives on the working group, which has yet to meet.

He said he supports discussion on the initiative and will be a part of it, adding that he thinks it depends on the quality of the landlords.

“I think it’s very important not to generalize about landlords in the city,” he said, adding that the members of the working group will likely be announced at either tonight’s council meeting or the following meeting Feb. 19.

A.J. Keilty, Kingston Rental Property Owners Association president, a landlord and Comm ’02, said students don’t know enough about existing property standards bylaws.

He said the proposed bylaw would only create another layer of administration and duplicate an existing bylaw at a cost to students.

“The real opportunity isn’t to throw in licensing fees,” he said. “This is a short-term result.”

Keilty said he’s working on a proposal with his association—which represents 108 landlords owning two-thirds of Kingston’s rental property—to change zoning bylaws so landowners can build more on their land. They will present the proposal before the working group.

The current zoning bylaw limits how many units can be built on a piece of property to two. Keilty said this makes it difficult for developers to get permission to build apartment buildings because each apartment would count as a unit.

Keilty said the city needs to develop more apartment buildings for students. If landlords can collect more rent for their property, he said, they would be able to afford renovations, upgrades and possibly security guards for the buildings. “I also think people would prefer to have a smaller living environment,” he said. “With smaller units, there’s less likelihood of large parties. … Kingston wants to try to solve the party problem.”

AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Kaitlyn Young said she will wait until the working group’s proposal comes out before deciding what stance the AMS takes.

“I think student opinion will come down to what the draft bylaw looks like,” she said.

“It could be something really good for students if there’s a really small fee for it.”

Young said there could also be a downside if the bylaw overcharges landlords who will, in turn, overcharge their tenants.

“It has the potential to be a significant cost, which it really shouldn’t be.”

—With files from Erin Flegg

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