|Rental housing and how address complaints made for|
lively discussion Monday at City Council
It took a few amendment suggestions from both the City Manager and Councillor Blair Mirau and over forty minutes of at times passionate debate, but at the end of Monday's Prince Rupert City Council session, the community was one vote away from final approval of new legislation on the theme of licensing and regulation of rental units in the city.
The Bylaw is one that comes out of Council's past concerns over the issue of Renovictions and is designed to provide some type of regimen towards the city's view of the housing situation in the community.
For the most part however, any action to take place on landlords as part of the bylaw will be through a complaint driven process to the City, an element of the proposal which dominated the Council review on the night.
What became an extensive discussion on the theme began with a report from the City's Corporate Administrator Rosa Miller who was following up on some questions raised at the February 28th Council session which featured a presentation from local housing advocates Paul Lagace and Arnold Nagy.
For her contribution to the night, Ms. Miller clarified some of the elements of note at that time, noting how the Residential Tenancy Act had changed, the bylaw is still technically accurate, but that a modification could be added.
As well, the original recommendation from the city's bylaw proposal to provide that the landlord would provide for rent and/or other housing during any renovation is over and above what the Act speaks towards.
"That was the only thing I think for me, that was concerning to me, was I kind of agree with that point, that if a family owns a home and they're just renovating that home, them having to provide a cost of living for another family to move out while they're doing those renovations versus a multi family to me I'm not sure that's a good cost to put onto a single family homeowner"
That observation from the Mayor proved to be a discussion starter for much debate for the evening.
Councillor Niesh concurred with the Mayor on his observations, for his part Councillor Cunningham did agree with the mayor's comments, but then outlined how he still has concerns over single family rentals.
The Councillor observing how there is still hesitation for tenants to complain about the living conditions simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.
Mr. Cunningham asked that the there should be no exemption for single family dwellings from the bylaw, but that there could be an amendment that the landlord is not responsible for finding alternative accommodation for a renovation.
"I tend to agree with that, it adds a lot of expense to a person that has a single family dwelling and wants to renovate. But my concern is still the single family dwelling ... you can have, as Paul said the majority of advocacy work for renovations and that is the single family dwelling, or the single family dwelling with the suite. And you get a lot of people in lower to mid range incomes who are going to live in those places and are afraid to complain about the conditions simply because there's no place to go"
The Mayor asked for some clarification on the city bylaw plan from the City manager, with Mr. Buchan observing as to how the bylaw would bring in a standard of maintenance to ensure that the city has an ability to act on bad landlords and rental accommodations that don't measure up to appropriate standards, with the bylaw one which would be complaint driven.
"Our bylaw does require a standard of maintenance for single family dwellings, the issue that has been articulated is by excluding single family dwellings to be registered for rentals, this notion that if they're not registered then perhaps somebody could get away with being the bad landlord ... right now there is no protection for those residents at all,
This bylaw would bring in a standard of maintenance in the bylaw to ensure that the city has an ability to act on bad landlords and accommodations that don't stand up to appropriate standards, the bylaw is very specific and elaborates on what those standards are, now that would be complaint driven.
The unintended consequence of having single family dwellings licensed would be that some people may not want to be licensed some people may withdraw their stock from the rental supply.
That's the unintended consequence on housing supply.
The other aspect of putting the single family dwellings into a licensing scheme is of course the additional staff work for all of the single family dwellings and suites that would be throughout the municipality and the enforcement of following up on those, and business licensing.
It would be a significant effort, which certainly we can do. My biggest concern is the potential loss of rental stock from those who for various reasons may not want to be licensed" -- City Manager Rob Buchan
The City Manager also outlined how the amendment process would work if Council wished to waive the need for accommodation assistance for the single home renters.
"You can simply do an amendment to ... excluding secondary suites and single family dwellings and you can do that tonight; we will have to come back, because we'd be amending this at third, we will have to come back to the next meeting to adopt this because we still need the separation between third and fourth"
The Mayor observed how in effect the result of any registration plan would see the City possibly become their own Residential Tenancy Branch with its own data base and would be in charge of enforcement.
Mr. Buchan outlined that with the proposal at the moment, the city would be able to step in once a complaint was made and provide enforcement of the bylaw standard to ensure that the suite is brought up to standard. He observed that the approach would be to put information on tenant rights out on the city website, in cooperation with Paul Lagace from the Prince Rupert unemployment Action Centre.
"This bylaw gives the city the power to step in and enforce once a complaint has been made to enforce the bylaw standard to ensure that the suite is brought up to standard. Just as we would if it were licensed, in both cases you know there would have to be a complaint, we would have to be made aware of it.
And so what we thought we would do after speaking with Paul at the last meeting was to put information out on our website and push information out about Tenant rights and the ability for tenants in substandard, poorly maintained suites to make a complaint and we could have our bylaw o at and enforce it ... we would do that in cooperation with the presenter at the last meeting"
The Mayor taking from that would come with a complaint driven process, the need for a blanket licensing system and added layer of bureaucracy would not be required.
Mr. Buchan observed that if the city was to enter into the inspection service, it would have resource implications on the City Budget, the Mayor noting how over a long term the City will require additional staff to be dedicated to housing, noting how at the moment as a small city Prince Rupert is not equipped for that now.
"I think that would definitely have a budget implication, there are many homes here and if we're going to be getting into the inspection I guess service and following up on all the single family dwellings that are rented as suites that's a significant work load, we would have to assess the work for that but I think that certainly has resource implications that would have a budget impact"
Mr. Brain then suggested that it could be a Strategic plan item for debate at next years budget time to determine what implications and cost would be required towards taking on the additional overview of the program.
Those observation sparked some further significant debate as to whether the City should be running a parallel service to that of the province.
"We know damn well by our bylaw enforcement in this town that complaint driven isn't working. You know you drive around this town and you see cars up on blocks with the hood off.
You see houses in disrepair, tarps on roofs and everything else.
You look at our maintenance bylaw, it has teeth in it and they're not being enforced and even when people complain nothing happens.
The Mayor over a year ago came out and looked at a house two away from me, and it was brought to bylaw, it's still sitting there, it's starting to lean over on the other house now.
So when do we do something about it, when it actually collapses on the house beside it and this is going to be the same thing" -- Councillor Barry Cunningham
Mr. Cunningham also shared more observations on the current housing situation and explained that the bylaw should be something to protect the renters and by leaving out the largest part of the rental market the city is not helping the renters, returning then to his concerns over the focus on a complaint driven process.
"You know complaint driven just has not worked in this town and that's a fact and other councillors in this room will agree with me.
Our bylaw enforcement's pathetic because of complaint driven, I've complained and nothing's happened and I'm a councillor. I don't now what what happens when other people complain.
You know, you think that maybe because you're a councillor they might listen to you, but they still don't listen you. I just think that we should be taking care of the biggest part of the problem"
Councillor Mirau joined the discussion and observed that there should be an easy agreement available, which is to add the Residential Tenancy Branch Notification Process and the exemption for single family dwelling as an amendment to the Bylaw.
That motion was then accepted and the bylaw proposal then amended.
Returning to the discussion on Councillor Cunningham's concerns, Mr. Mirau observed as to how it was a controversial concept and one that was somewhat unworkable. He also noted how the city's bylaw provides all the standards and protections required for renters.
"To cast the argument as somehow a carte blanche exemption for all single family houses is incorrect, they are only exempt from registration and fees. They are still responsible to meet part four, which is all the minimum maintenance standards and they are still bound by part five which is the building renovations which is all the protections that we're talking about for renters. Single family dwellings are still responsible for adhering to those two parts of the bylaw which is in my opinion the critical part of this" -- Councillor Blair Mirau
He added that the main objective for the city should be to protect the people who are afraid to complain and incentivize good behaviour from landlords and penalize the bad behaviour for those who not doing what's required.
Mr. Mirau also highlighted what he saw as problem towards registration of all single family dwellings with rentals.
"The issue that Councillor Cunningham raises is an important one for people who are afraid to complain, but the problem in asking every single family dwelling with a basement suite, or a one bedroom apartment or whatever that they have as a rental, the bad actors will not register anyways, they will not pay the fee anyways and it will still have to be complaint driven in the end anyways.
So to me it's much more important for us to get something on the books that we can actually enforce in terms of the maintenance standards and the building renovations. Because if we don't do that then we're not going to be able to protect the rights of existing tenants. So to me time is of the essence"
He also outlined how it would be completely unprecedented for a city to go and raise taxes to not just duplicate what the province is doing, but to go beyond what the Residential Tenancy Branch provides for.
Mr. Mirau also expressed caution at the idea of adding significant amount of cost and paperwork not just for staff, but for the single family residence property owners.
Councillor Adey joined the conversation first posing a question as to how the city would know where the properties are, if there is no registration required and how would the city know how many people are renting basement suites and how standards are being met.
Mr. Buchan observed that the city would learn of that on the basis of complaint, he noted that it would be a different matter to undertake inventories and build a system, but that it would be resource intensive and if done this year, it would require an amendment to the proposed city budget.
The councillor then offered up his own observations on the complaint driven process.
"It does seem to me that to me that we need to put some thought into having make the complaint driven process work a little better. I'm not quite willing to go as far in terms of criticizing the people that do the work of responding to complaints, because I think that their time is limited, and their resources are limited, and there are limited numbers of them. I understand that.
But I do think that it needs to be much less intimidating for somebody who is in a position of need, because when you are renting a place and there's no other obvious other place to rent you are in a position of need. And what that does is creates that reluctance to complain and I think we did try to find a way to break that down a little bit and to make that a less threatening process to enter into" -- Councillor Nick Adey
The City Manager again noted of the proposal to inform the public through the city website and to make use of Mr. Lagace and Mr. Nagy towards using their outreach program towards informing and assisting the public.
|City Council and staff are looking to forge somewhat of a |
partnership with the Prince Rupert Unemployed action Centre
towards addressing rental complain issues in the community
Mayor Brain then noted how there could be a partnership between the city and the Unemployed Action Centre towards the complaint process where there would be anonymity for renters which could then be referred to the City for enforcement.
Picking up on the theme of the complaint driven process, Mr. Brain also had a few notes on the enforcement issues.
"The reason why the entire enforcement apparatus of this community is complaint driven is because Council has never chosen to budget for enforcement. It's us that aren't allocating the resources to be proactively enforcing because we have other budgetary constraints when we all came into office ...
We haven't had a budget discussion yet but a proposed three percent tax increase I'm certain that we're going to have some opinion on that, let alone what would most likely be another five hundred thousand minimum additional enforcement budget to really get to the level you area speaking to" -- Mayor Lee Brain
Mr Brain recounted some of the challenges that could come from an enforcement model that a future council would have to deal with towards a long term process, noting of the more immediate competing priorities at the moment.
He also cautioned at adding another level of bureaucracy and remained Council how the provincial government is in change of housing, pointing to the city's bylaw as a forward thinking proposal and one that has gone further than most communities towards protecting people.
Towards the immediate need Mayor Brain suggested that Councillor Mirau's amendment offered the best path ahead towards some action .
Councillor Cunningham reinforced his concerns for those that may be remain unprotected.
"I have no problems supporting this because it's better than nothing, I'll be the first to say that. It does give some protection but at the same time it leaves a lot of people unprotected and that's my concern.
Right now our staff doesn't have the time to prepare a study, on how much this is going to cost and everything, our staff is maxed out we all know that. They are either going above and beyond most of the time anyway contrary to popular belief ... the bottom line is, in the future I would like to see something like that looked at.
Now whether it's with this council or the next one, like I agree with Councillor Mirau this is a good start. But it's still leaving a lot of people unprotected and it's people that need the protection that we're leaving unprotected"-- Councillor Barry Cunningham
Mr. Buchan then suggested for Council that the concept be put forward as part of strategic planning for 2023.
Councillor Skelton-Morven agreed with the motion as proposed by Mr. Mirau, though also shared Councillor Cunningham's concerns towards renters.
Mr. Mirau then noted that the province needs to step up, observing how every small community is picking up the pieces of their jurisdiction that are not being looked after in rural and remote communities.
He once again expressed his concerns over the difficulties he sees in having a registration program in place and how it could create more challenges for the city. Adding he would prefer to have that debate as part of strategic planning at a future date.
Councillor Randhawa also spoke to the motion, concurring with some of the Councillor Mirau's themes.
Councillor Niesh also noted how if the registration plan was put in place it would more than likely reduce the amount of housing options in the community, whether legal or illegal. Observing that by enforcing too much, the city may in the end be creating a larger problem in the rental area.
Mayor Brain provided for the conclusion to the wide ranging discussion
"These are important issues and ultimately I think we've done something that I'm not sure any other communities int the North have done yet have they? I think we're certainly taking some action and I think that's the most important thing" -- Mayor Lee Brain
You can review the full scope of the Business Regulations and Licensing Bylaw from the City's Agenda package from Monday evening.
The final approval for the measures will come with the next Council session of March 28th.
The City has yet to post the video of Monday's Council session to their YouTube archive page, once they do we will include the video to allow for a review of the Council Discussion.
Update: The City posted the video to their archive on March 23rd.
For more notes related to Monday's Council Session see our Council Timeline Feature here.
More notes on Council themes can be explored through our Council Discussion Archive.
The work of Council that has led to the proposed bylaw began with some focus last summer, with council exploring the topic in the wake of a number of renoviction issues in the community.
Much of the concerns related to the rental situation stems from the lack of affordable housing that has been available in the community over the last decade.
A period of time where former proposals for apartment and housing concepts faded from view without development, while existing rental options in the community have been taken out of the housing stock for a range of reasons from fires to property owner decisions.
Some progress has been realized on towards on improving on the housing stock in recent months, but the need still far outweighs the supply of affordable and livable housing for the community.
Some of those elements can be reviewed through our Housing archive pages.