The city could soon be coming down harder on Barrie’s boarding houses.
Councillors gave initial approval Monday to a motion to increase the monitoring of boarding, lodging and rooming (BLR) houses to ensure they’re complying with zoning, property maintenance and licensing bylaws, along with building and fire codes.
And to look for unlicensed BLRs in all parts of Barrie.
Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth asked to go a little further – for a city staff probe into the legality and feasibility of requiring all low-rise rental housing in the Community Improvement Project Area, defined in the Georgian College Neighbourhood Community Improvement Plan, to be licensed.
“Without applying for a license, many landlords blatantly rent out to more than the four maximum tenants (as prescribed in the bylaw),” she said. “They do so to dodge the cost of the license (about $200), the cost of BLR conversion compliance and annual inspections.
“The problem is since our 2007 bylaw, compliance has been a bit of a mugs game. Only now are we talking about any proactive measures to identify cheaters.
“Most rentals have more than four occupants and almost none of the rentals in the neighbourhood are licensed,” Ainsworth said.
Her motion also passed, and she has an example she wants explored.
Barrie’s Ward 1 councillor wants city staff to look at Oshawa, which passed its residential housing bylaw in 2008.
“They chose to enact a geographic bylaw which applies to the area surrounding Durham College,” Ainsworth said. “Because they are operating a street specific licensing requirement regime I feel their model may be conducive to adaption to allow area-specific regulation in our city in the near-campus neighbourhood.
“A rental licensing bylaw to capture all residential rental units in the Community Improvement Project Area, defined in the Georgian College Neighbourhood Community Improvement Plan, would provide the city authority for annual inspections to ensure the safety of rental housing and increase compliance with city bylaws and regulations,” she said.
Georgian College students’ interaction with east-end residents has been a contentious issue for decades in Bar r i e, with families living side-by-side with students, some as young as 17 and 18. This has resulted in noise, parking and property standards complaints.
Ainsworth noted that licensing rental housing bylaws came into effect in London in 2010 and in Waterloo in 2012.
Both Ontario cities adopted an across-the-city rental housing licensing bylaw. She wants the bylaw to be retroactive in Barrie.
“I would not expect or want any grand-fathering,” Ainsworth said. “I’m going after the house. I want the house licenced so it can be inspected.”
The motion councillors passed to increase monitoring would be done with existing bylaw enforcement resources. To do this, the city’s bylaw enforcement department would need additional resources, including staff, but the cost could be recovered, in whole or in part, through service fees. Those not recovered would come from property taxes.
This could double the number of investigations by bylaw officers, and cost $48,000.
It would probably mean 60 more tenants looking for a new place to live, and six newly licenced BLRs. Rents could also increase.
This would, however, protect those living in unlicensed BLRs and reduce the nuisance at high-occupancy, although licensed, BLRs – such as vehicle congestion, excessive noise and poorly maintained properties.
Right now the city has 26 licenced BLRs, all in Wards 1 and 2.
Council has directed staff to bring in a plan to identify unlicensed BLRs in all of the city’s residential areas, to ensure compliance.
But Gord Allison, Barrie’s building and bylaw director, said it’s a complicated process.
“The only way to know how a dwelling unit is being occupied is to speak with the occupants and to inspect the dwelling’s interior,” he says in the staff report.
“Whereas locks on bedroom doors and the number of tenants contribute to the definition of a BLR, each house being occupied by tenants would need to be inspected for locks and to count the number of tenants residing in the unit.
“Distinguishing between tenants who are paying rent for the room versus friends visiting for the day or a short stay in the ‘guest room’ can be challenging.”
Allison also noted inspecting the inside of an occupied dwelling unit requires the informed consent of at least one of the tenants – someone 19 or older who agrees to let a bylaw officer in to gather evidence about the use and occupancy, after being told they have the right to refuse.
BLR house investigations usually begin from an anonymous complaint (often a tenant), a neighbour or from a city councillor, on behalf of a neighbour, from fire department prevention staff , or from bylaw officers investigating other complaints.
From 2013-2015, bylaw staff have averaged 75 investigations a year into alleged BLRs.
Of those 47% were single-dwelling homes with no more than four tenants and no locks on bedroom doors, and 40% were unlicensed BLRs.
Of the rest, 6% were unregistered, two-unit houses and the rest (7%) couldn’t be resolved, due to lack of evidence.
Council has also asked staff for options to find more unlicensed BLRs, investigate them and, if found, force compliance by either converting the use back to a single-dwelling home or force the owner to get a BLR licence.