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Planning committee considers anti-renoviction bylaw

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Could an anti-renoviction bylaw help slow the loss of affordable housing in Ottawa?

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Could an anti-renoviction bylaw help slow the loss of affordable housing in Ottawa?

That’s a question councillors on the city’s planning and housing committee will grapple with Wednesday when they consider whether to follow the City of Hamilton’s lead in enacting a bylaw to protect tenants from bad-faith evictions.

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The Hamilton bylaw was approved in January and is the first of its kind in the province. It requires landlords to get a permit from the city within seven days of issuing an N13 notice — the eviction notice used if the building is to be demolished or is undergoing extensive renovations that can’t be done while a tenant is living there.

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Tenants rights groups like Ottawa Acorn, which held a rally outside city hall Tuesday, say landlords have abused the process, issuing eviction notices in bad faith for renovations that never get done or to hike rents when a new tenant moves in.

To be sure, the motion from Somerset Ward Coun. Ariel Troster is only to direct city staff to study the Hamilton bylaw to see if it could work here.

“The best way to end homelessness is to stop it from happening,” Troster wrote in an op-ed published in Wednesday’s Ottawa Citizen.

Landlords, however, say the Hamilton bylaw duplicates laws that the province has already put in place to protect tenants and adds another layer of bureaucracy for building owners.

“We are concerned. The industry needs less red tape, not more red tape,” said John Dickie, chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization.

Dickie says the province already requires an order from the Landlord and Tenant Board before a tenant can be evicted. According to the watchdog, Tribunals Watch Ontario, the LTB already has a backlog of 53,000 cases, meaning it can take a year or more for an appeal to be heard.

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“It’s already onerous for landlords to get that vacant possession to do the necessary work without the city coming in with additional rules,” Dickie said.

Troster says the city has to do something to slow the loss of affordable housing units. A 2023 study by Carleton University Prof. Steve Pomeroy, senior research fellow for the Centre for Urban Research and Education, showed that for every new unit of affordable housing built in Ottawa — that is a room or apartment available for $1,000 a month or less —  31 are being lost due to rising rents, renovations or demolition.

Troster said the number of N13 eviction notices issued in Ottawa has tripled between 2021 and 2022.

“The tremendous loss of moderately priced apartments is really what we’re trying to tackle with these series of policy motions,” Troster said, citing a separate motion by Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stephanie Plante for the city to establish an affordable housing acquisition fund.

“The whole idea is to reverse that trend. We’re not talking about $300-a-month apartment. It’s maybe a $1,200 apartment as opposed to a $3,000 apartment. It’s the kind of apartment that a working-class person might be able to afford,” she said.

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The lack of affordable housing is forcing many people, even some with full-time jobs, to turn to the city’s emergency shelter system.

“I’ve had a few landlords reach out and say, ‘It’s my property. I can charge what I want.’ But as a city we’re going to have to take stock of our housing stock, otherwise we’re going to be looking at a massive extension of our shelter system beyond what we have now,” she said. “It’s just unacceptable that people who have full-time jobs can’t afford rent. Something has to give.”

If approved by the planning and housing committee, Troster’s motion would still have to be voted on by city council as whole.

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