New regulations being considered by a city committee on Thursday would set minimum standards for the upkeep of rental properties across Ottawa and impose new obligations on landlords and tenants for handling pest problems.
The proposed changes, released by the city on Tuesday, include measures that appeal to groups on both sides of the rental divide, who agree that change is needed to improve the living conditions of renters but disagree on how to achieve that goal.
The changes would apply to both short- and long-term rental properties as well as social housing.
Under a new Rental Housing Property Management bylaw, building owners would be required to develop a capital maintenance plan if their apartment building has 10 or more units or three or more storeys. The plan would require landlords to regularly inspect and repair electrical systems, plumbing, fire escapes, elevators, roofs and balconies.
All landlords would have to track tenant service requests and respond to vital requests within 24 hours of receiving them.
Landlords would also be required to provide all tenants with an information package that includes instructions for contacting the property manager, how to submit requests for service, and tenant responsibilities.
Pest control major problem for tenants
New pest control standards, made through amending an existing bylaw, would require landlords to conduct preventive inspections and provide instructions to tenants on how to treat the infestations and how to prepare their units for treatments.
The city said pest control was the most frequent issue related to rental housing quality, with 32 per cent of all service requests from rental housing relating to either pests such as cockroaches, bed bugs and ants, or vermin, including rats, mice and raccoons.
Kanata North Coun. Jenna Sudds, who chairs the community and protective services committee, said the goal of the new regime is to improve the living conditions for tenants in rental properties across the city.
“It’s unfortunate it’s taken us this long to get here, but we’re here now,” said Sudds. “I think it will make a big difference in the quality of rental housing across the city.”
If passed by the committee, the changes will go before the full council next Wednesday and go into effect in August 2021.
The new regime is meant to improve the living conditions of people like Jean-Claude Latreille, a tenant at an Overbrook apartment building on 1244 Donald Street, who has been living with persistent pest issues for years.
“I live with bed bugs, cockroaches, pigeon droppings,” said Latreille, who, along with his wife, uses a wheelchair. “I’m fed up. Something’s got to be done.”
Tenant rights organization Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, held a protest outside Latreille’s apartment building Wednesday afternoon. A dozen or so rally-goers in red shirts held signs and chanted slogans like “We want pest control!”
In an interview with CBC News, ACORN board member Norma-Jean Quibell said the city’s proposed changes are a positive step forward, but she wants more to be done.
“It’s not that we’re unhappy with it, it’s just we think it could be stronger,” said Quibell.
ACORN was calling for the city to develop a landlord registry, but council rejected that idea in November 2019. Instead, it approved a package targeting problem landlords with higher inspection fees and hired two more bylaw officers to focus on rental property enforcement.
“We were asking for landlord registration and that didn’t go through with council,” said Quibell. “But this bylaw does incorporate a lot of our ideas involving that.”
Quibell said she’s happy about a separate city initiative to develop an online database for tenants to search property standard violations or maintenance violations and is calling on the city to conduct more proactive inspections that would catch the kind of violations that end up in that database.
Landlord association says new rules could be burdensome
John Dickie, executive director of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, said the new requirements would impose an unnecessary burden on landlords.
“We’re not happy about the extra kind of busy work that’s going to be involved,” he said.
Dickie said most landlords already provide much of the information they’ll now be required to formalize into an information package, like how to take care of the garbage and how to contact the property manager for a service request.
On the other hand, Dickie praised the move to impose more responsibilities on tenants with respect to pest control.
“Everyone in the area agrees that landlords and tenants have to both do their part to get the pests treated,” he said.