Why does the city staff refuse to regulate student lodging housing in single family areas?

Posted June 25, 2014

Here you are living in a quiet neighbourhood where families gather and share experiences involving their children, work and play. At a house close by, young people start arriving and the party starts with searing sounds of music and profanity-laced yelling. A place in some sites, where beer is openly sold to all and sundry.

This is NOT Mr. Rogers’ neighbourhood.

Let’s back up a bit. At a recent meeting of the city Planning, Building, Engineering and Environmental committee, the staff presented a report regarding the licensing of rental properties. More specifically the report focused on student lodging-houses in single-family zoned areas.

The city staff has been working on this project for the past nine months and there has been considerable public input.

But a strange thing occurred. The staff did not recommend proceeding with the proposed bylaw. Following discussion, the committee voted to have the staff review that decision and report back. Of the members of the committee, only Coun. Cam Guthrie voted against sending it back to staff for review.

Residents living around one student lodging-house have been complaining about the tenants abusing their privacy and peace of mind for months. Normally the neighbours brace for the months of September and October when the new crop of students arrive. But now the uncivil party seems to keep going, despite many students returning to their homes.

Here’s what neighbours face almost on a nightly basis: Loud rock music, drinking, selling beer, fouling the neighbour’s property, yelling, and using profanity and the participants keep it up long after midnight. In some cases, resident’s personal property has been damaged.

The adjacent homes have been asking for help to curb these objectionable activities in the neighbourhood without much assistance from the city bylaw officers or the police. But the authorities say their hands are tied due to the system that prevents direct intervention.

This is a widespread problem in Wards Five and Six. The university has no interest or control over these off-campus student houses. The owners of these homes allow overcrowding and offer no supervision of their student tenants. The student cost is $500 a month and in some of these homes there may be as many as a dozen living in the home.

In the background, is a determined Landlord’s Association lobbying to have staff and council reject the proposed rental bylaw. Many of the Landlord Association owners do not live in Guelph.

Why are they objecting? Because they don’t want any interference that may ruin the cash gravy train.

The affected resident’s say there is no control over the behaviour of the students by the landlords. The landlords counter that the rental charge will not change the uncivil behaviour of their tenants.

At one point, the city said the revenues derived through the rental program would be used to beef up bylaw enforcement and police presence.

The affected residents, and, in other parts of the city where these student-lodging houses are located, are demanding action.

Apparently the staff has not considered the effect on these homeowners and taxpayers who are afflicted by the unruly behaviour of the student occupants who are not permanent residents. The students have no stake in the game and can act anyway they want.

This issue will be a rallying point for citizens in the October 27 civic election.

If not controlled here, it can happen anywhere.

Is your neighbourhood next?

 

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8 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

8 responses to “Why does the city staff refuse to regulate student lodging housing in single family areas?

  1. L. Morrison

    These isolated problems with particular properties and landlords will not be resolved by imposing a ‘tax’ on registered rental properties in the city, it will simply cause an increase in the already inflated rents in Guelph. This is exemplified in cities that have attempted this and are failing dismally, see the mess that London is currently in…. the problem rentals are still problems, many of these are not registered because delinquent landlords do not report the housing or income as a rental, and rents have increased across the board to cover the increased costs incurred from the ‘tax’. I really don’t understand why the city can’t use, impose and enact the laws and bylaws that are already in place to deal with the few rooming houses that have recurrent problems; if they aren’t willing/able to police the problem now, what makes you think this will change by making a list and imposing a tax on all rental units? By the way, I know several families who are landlords, who are not milking the gravy train as you put it, but can only afford to purchase their own home by having income from an accessory apartment. Don’t tar and feather everyone with your inflammatory generalizations, there are many good landlords out there and well-behaved tenants.

    • L. Morrison: I’m sure there are many responsible landlords in the city. But like anything else, there are always those who bend the rules, fail to supervise their tenants and create serious social problems in many neighbourhoods. These situations are more numerous than the landlords Association wants to admit.
      It is clear that the city has been lax in enforcing its own bylaws in regard to illegal parking, noise, and drinking in unlicensed student lodging premises. The city should have put more resources to fixing this problem years ago. The excuse was they any action would activate the civil liberty crowd and the cost of defending its decisions would be too costly. Now that’s how you solve a problem. Acknowledge it, then kick it down the road. Please don’t shoot the messenger of this state of affairs. Look to the Farbridge Council that has done little to curb the situation for eight years. Ah yes, they did opposed the building of a private student housing complex at Stone Road and Gordon Street, as did the university. Whose side are they on?
      The OMB approved the project that is to be built right across the street from the university.

  2. Canadian Guy

    For someone who is critical of management of the Guelph’s finances, I find your comments hypocritical as any rental licensing will not only increase the costs of rented accommodation but will also result in a new, permanently staffed City enforcement unit with all the associated salaries, pensions, offices and vehicles thus increasing the costs of running the City. Mandatory licensing affecting every rental unit could result in increased rents of $1,000 or more per year. How does that stop students from getting drunk or creating noise?

    I asked the City Council for some simple data on the problem they are trying to fix but they have not responded, nor has any supporter of rental licensing. Here’s what I am asking…….(1) In the last 5 years, what percentage of the total number of rental units in Guelph have officially been deemed “unsafe” due to landlord neglect? Is it 70% (which would require an urgent response if the physical safety of so many tenants’ is at risk) or is it 1% (where existing by-laws could be used to punish those responsible). (2) In the last 5 years, what percentage of the total number of rental units in Guelph have complaints registered against them for behavioural problems (drunk and disorderly, property damage, noise, etc)? Once again, is it 70%, 1%? Is it a big problem or a small one? Guessing doesn’t count, it has to be reliable data.

    Reviewing data will help clarify exactly what problem requires attention and how big it is. Under current by-laws, landlords who don’t take care of a property are fined by the City. If I were to misbehave in public and cause a disturbance, I would be fined by the City.

    Before we rush headlong into an expensive, permanent solution, we need to know what we are dealing with.

    • Canadian Guy: I always marvel at those who comment but won’t identify who they are. Having said that, the city has all kinds of data that you question. It’s not like this suddenly arrived, it’s been building for years. The enforcement is the problem. The bylaws covering the situation are in serious need of revising to suit the circumstances. The city has said that the revenue derived from the rental licensing will be used to beef up the bylaws to give enforcement officers the power to deal with these problems. Everyone has the right to make real estate investments that are covered under proper zoning laws. The fact that these student lodgings exists at all is a problem created by the administration that allowed them to be converted in the first place and in the wrong areas.

      Can’t figure out why the landlords are opposed because they are going to pass it through to the student tenants. Or is there another reason?

  3. Ruby

    Rental licensing only raises rents, doesn’t fix neighbourhood problems such as tenant problem behaviour and creates another layer of very expensive municipal beaucracy.

    The real fix is changing the restrictive RTA legislation and the LTB so good landlords could quickly evict problem tenants which in Ontario isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    • Ruby: Excellent points. Good landlords are responsible and would not allow their properties to be used the way many are in Wards Five and Six. The problem lies with those landlords who either don’t care or live out of town that are causing the problems. I still say the city has a responsibility to these citizens who live near these questionable premises. The city officials know where these troublesome rentals are located because of the volume of citizen complaints.

  4. Douglas

    Several good points are made here.

    That many landlords and tenants, students or otherwise, are responsible is true but those landlords that knowing rent to disruptive students and fail to exercise any control over the their properties cause immeasurable harm to family residential neighbourhoods particularity in Wards 5 and 6.

    Having rental income from an accessory apartment in a homeowner’s own home is a good thing. The tenant is living in a supervised environment. If there are disruptive behaviours the landlord is right there to attend to the matter. An absentee landlord tenant relationship is an entirely different situation.

    It has been suggested that current by-laws enforcement is the answer to the problems. If that were the case then the multitudes of residential home owners would not have had to form several neighbourhood associations to appeal to city hall, over many years to bring in licensing.

    The time for discussion has been exhausted, licensing is clearly the only way to deal with the magnitude of problems generated from absentee landlords abusing the loopholes in the present system.

  5. N.E.

    – On-campus housing is not able to support all of the students in this city
    – Off-campus housing is necessary
    – Landlords provide a valuable service
    – Students are young and like to party
    – Noise will be made
    – Students will misbehave
    – Neighbours will get upset
    – Fingers will be pointed. Torches will be lit.
    – Landlords will be blamed
    – Gerry will be there 🙂

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