Less than a month after launching a rental licensing pilot aimed at curbing illegal lodging, Brampton has paused the program until further notice citing backlash from landlords.
The planned two-year Residential Rental Licensing pilot, which began on Jan. 1, would have required property owners or landlords in five of Brampton's wards to register with the city to rent out four or fewer units. It was put in place because of "a problem of illegal units," Mayor Patrick Brown said at a news conference in December, where he cited cases of over 12 students living in an illegal basement.
City staff now say the pilot was temporarily paused on Jan. 25 after receiving a request from some members of the council because of numerous complaints from landlords about having to resubmit electrical and HVAC certification.
"I have also heard from landlords that some of the overcrowding they are experiencing in their rentals is due to tenants subletting," Coun. Dennis Keenan said.
Keenan, who proposed the pilot along with Coun. Rowena Santos, said landlords were concerned about being penalized for tenants subletting their property, especially in cases that are before the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) of Ontario.
The city factored in concerns raised in an online petition signed by nearly 7,000 residents to halt the pilot program, and numerous complaints and inquiries about the program, city staff said.
The city said it is working to "streamline" the process by making some changes to the program, including removing requirements for criminal record check, accepting property tax bills as proof of ownership, not requiring condominium apartments or condominium townhouses to obtain a business licence, and extending the $300 annual fee waiver from March 31 to June 30 this year.
In December, Brown said the city had heard complaints about an estimated 30,000 units, but the actual number "could be much larger."
Only 29 landlords had registered with the city clerk under the pilot before it was paused.
Pilot won't work without incentives for landlords: realtor
The pilot is urgently needed given the housing affordability crisis and complaints about illegal rentals "going through the roof," said Lashika Katyal, director of sales at SaveMax real estate.
"You'll see four, eight, 10 girls and boys living in a room in this city," she said. "It's not because they're comfortable, they just can't afford the rent."
Realtor Lashika Katyal says the pilot is urgently needed given the housing affordability crisis and complaints about illegal rentals 'going through the roof.' (Provided by Lashika Katyal)
For the pilot to work, Katyal says the city needs to properly incentivize landlords.
She says the city needs to properly calculate costs, and realize it's so much more than just a $300 license; the cost of getting a basement legally-ready to rent out is in the tens of thousands.
"People don't want that," Katyal said, "So how can you make that easy?"
Some councillors say they were sidelined by move
Two councillors of wards that were part of the program told CBC Toronto they were not part of the decision or request to pause it.
Medeiros said he was "taken aback" when he heard about the pause.
"I never requested a pause nor was I part of any decision related to the pause," Medeiros said.
Not only was he never officially informed, he said, the issues raised by landlords were also not shared.
"This was not a formal council decision. It should've been brought forward to the council. It speaks to the concerns with running this program. I am concerned about how everything is unfolding," he said.
Coun. Pat Fortini said he was not consulted about the decision to pause the rental licensing pilot that he says was intended to target 'slum landlords.' (Martin Trainor/CBC)
Coun. Pat Fortini shared similar concerns.
He said the intention of the pilot was to go after "slum landlords" who are renting "a place with one washroom to up to 15 people, with garbage outside, and multiple cars parked on the grass."
But by including all landlords, even those who have spent thousands of dollars to meet city by-law standards, Fortini said the pilot added "administrative burden."
Both Fortini and Medeiros said the revision of the pilot needs to include other wards or reduce it to one ward to test it out.
Council calls on province to address LTB delays
One of the reasons for the pilot's pause was complaints from landlords who say their tenants have sublet their properties illegally or haven't followed city rules, Keenan said. Due to delays at the LTB, many of their complaints haven't been heard and some landlords fear they will be penalised if they enrol in the pilot program, he said.
On Wednesday, city council passed a motion calling on the Ford government to address the backlog of cases at the board.
"The province has a problem: massive delays," Brown said in the committee meeting. "Fix the Landlord and Tenant Board, it's a no brainer. Then we can fix the problem of overcrowded rental units."
In November, the LTB said it had made improvements to its systems since the province's ombudsman published a scathing investigation on dysfunction at the board in May.
It updated the Ombudsman about the progress it made since making changes to its digital-first system, like hiring more adjudicators and reducing wait times.