The City of Waterloo’s rental housing licensing bylaw came into effect on April 1, 2012. Among other things, the bylaw establishes per-person floor area requirements, gross floor area requirements, a licensing fee, and separate regulatory regimes for:
- Non-owner-occupied rentals with up to 4 bedrooms
- Owner-occupied units with up to 4 bedrooms for rent
- Lodging houses (rental units with 5 or more bedrooms)
It also regulates:
- Recognized (grandparented) lodging houses
- Temporary rental units
Related zoning bylaws impose minimum separation distances or zoning restrictions on certain rental units with more than three occupants.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) was concerned that the licensing regime might discriminate against groups protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) and cause them to lose their current housing, or to have a harder time finding housing in future. As a result, the OHRC initiated an inquiry to learn more.
During the inquiry, Waterloo residents reported concerns that – among other things – per-person floor area requirements for bedrooms, minimum separation distances, gross floor area requirements and costs associated with licensing may reduce availability of housing for students, large families, and other people protected by the Code.
The OHRC investigated these issues throughout the inquiry, and raised its concerns with the City.
The City has taken a number of positive steps, some of which are highlighted in the OHRC’s Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing guide. For example:
- The City referred to the Ontario Human Rights Code in the bylaw.
- The City applied the bylaw to the entire city.
- The City said it will provide landlords with information about their responsibilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code when they apply for licences for their properties.
- The City bylaw states that the Director of By-law Enforcement shall, before revoking or suspending a licence, consider the impact on tenants.
- The City has committed to a five-year review of licensing bylaws and housing plans, to make sure that rental housing keeps pace with community demand and affordable housing needs and goals.
- The City has committed to monitor the impact of the bylaw and – in addition to a formal five-year review – also says that City staff most directly involved with overseeing the rental housing licensing program meet every week. The City also said that if they find the bylaw is having
an adverse impact on the rental housing market in Waterloo (including an adverse impact on Code-protected groups), the City will be in a position to react quickly and effectively.
- The City agreed that it would continue to educate the public about the bylaw.
The OHRC commends the City for these promising practices, and includes recommendations later in this report.
However, the OHRC remains concerned about the potential impact of the rental housing licensing regime on Code-protected groups.
In considering whether Waterloo’s licensing bylaw appears to be discriminatory, the OHRC must examine whether:
- Elements of the rental housing licensing regime create a distinction that causes someone to be disadvantaged; and
- The disadvantage occurs because of that person’s association with a Code ground.
The OHRC concludes that per-person floor area requirements in the Waterloo licensing bylaw will in some cases be discriminatory, and should be eliminated.
While the City has said that minimum separation distance (MSD) limits are not contained in the City’s recently passed Official Plan, and while the City has indicated that it is now undertaking a review of its Zoning By-law, which includes considering minimum separation distances, the City has not yet eliminated MSDs. The OHRC concludes that there is no justification for requiring non-apartment, non-high-rise rental units to be located a minimum distance apart from one another. The practice is arbitrary, and should be eliminated to ensure compliance with the Code.
Note that the OHRC uses the term MSD while the City of Waterloo uses MDS – both terms are used in this report.
From the information we obtained during the inquiry, it does not appear that other aspects of the bylaw are discriminatory.