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3. Background

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3.1 An overview of North Bay’s Residential Rental Housing Licensing By-law

The bylaw is being rolled out in phases, with city-wide compliance set for 2016. The City first applied its bylaw to neighbourhoods with high student populations: those adjacent to Nipissing University and Canadore College.

For a landlord to get a rental housing licence from the City of North Bay, no more than 40% of the rental unit’s gross floor area on the ground floor and in the basement can be bedrooms. Section 9.1 of the bylaw enables property owners to apply for a variance from the 40% gross floor area requirement (on ground and lower levels) if their building was “originally constructed” to contain more than 40% of floor area for bedrooms on those levels.[1]

A maximum of five rental bedrooms are permitted, but the City may, under section 9.1 of the bylaw, authorize variances to increase the five-bedroom cap, if the house was originally constructed to have a larger number of bedrooms.

Properties with six or more bedrooms occupied by tenants that are not granted a variance must adhere to rules for “lodging houses” in the City’s zoning bylaw. Lodging houses must be located in a zone where rooming or lodging houses are a permitted use. Lodging houses are not permitted in “low density” zones in the City.

The initial licensing fee is $300. Renewals must be made every two years, and cost $300. The licensing fee includes the cost of inspections by the City’s Building Department, Fire Department and Planning Department. An inspection by the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) is also required, and costs approximately $300.[2]

To get a licence, a landlord must provide the City with a number of items, including floor, maintenance and parking plans; proof of insurance; compliance statements from the City’s Fire Chief, Chief Building Official, Zoning Administrator and the ESA; a statement of past noise bylaw convictions from the City’s By-law Enforcement Coordinator; and proof of payment of any fines.

Landlords who fail to abide by the bylaw can have their licences revoked or suspended, and/or face fines of up to $25,000 for a first offence (for an individual) or up to $50,000 for a first offence (for a corporation). Subsequent offences can result in higher fines.

3.2 Impetus for the bylaw

According to the bylaw, the purpose of North Bay licensing rental housing was to:

  • Protect the health and safety of renters
  • Ensure that required essentials such as plumbing, heating and water are provided to renters
  • Make sure that rental premises “do not create a nuisance to the surrounding properties and neighbourhood”
  • Protect the residential amenity, character and stability of residential areas.[3]

It appears that a significant trigger for the bylaw was a series of complaints from homeowners about rental units. For example, a 2011 City Council report says:

The City of North Bay has recognized a need within the community to deal with various rental housing issues occurring within the City of North Bay. This comes from a variety of complaints that have been received over many years regarding conflict around, and resolutions to, students and non-student issues in residential neighbourhoods in the City.[4]

The OHRC reviewed complaints submitted to the City. The complaints were varied in nature, but a majority related to noise and property maintenance issues in houses rented by students.

Concerns identified by homeowners, in their submissions to the OHRC and in communication to North Bay City staff, include:

  • Parking: “The lack of parking results in a health and safety hazard because the extra vehicles congest the street not allowing emergency vehicles easy passage.”[5]
  • Theft: “…yard lights or Christmas lights stolen…”[6]
  • Noise: “… noise such as shopping cart races or loud music or screaming and cursing at all hours of the night and early morning…”[7]
  • Littering and drinking in public: “I even observe these individuals walking down the street, drinking alcohol with no regard of where they leave their empty bottles, leaving me with the ‘responsibility’ of picking up their empty and broken beer bottles from my property.”[8]
  • Poor property maintenance: “Many of these properties exhibit broken garage doors, rutted lawns, and external damages of various types…”[9]
  • Concerns that “family” neighbourhoods are being converted into student ghettos: “We the owner/residents, who invested our life savings in our homes are not moving, because we are still hoping to keep this from being a student ghetto. We do expect the City of North Bay to take stronger measures to stop the proliferation of this type of residence and return the neighbourhood to families.”[10]

While some student tenants surveyed said they had not heard negative comments in the community about student renters, or they had heard positive comments, others shared their concerns about negative comments they heard.

For example, one student tenant said that she heard “[t]ypical poor views on students being in ‛family neighbourhoods.’” Another student said “a lot of people in the neighbourhoods see students as a hindrance on the neighbourhood.”

One student said, “Many people have a dislike for students because a small minority have caused problems in the past in regards to noise and other disruptions.” Another student tenant told the OHRC:

Some neighbours tend not to like students, as we are portrayed as strictly “party animals” though this is simply not true. Sometimes our neighbours won’t talk to us because of this preconceived notion. Makes it hard to get to know the people around you.

Some students felt the bylaw specifically targeted them. For example, one student said that the bylaw “is very unfair, and designed to limit student housing…” Another student told the OHRC:

…This bylaw is a way for the city to please the homeowners, but my thought is there were already bylaws in place that the city chose not to enforce, so they are choosing to make a new bylaw that singles out one population – students, to “improve” the problem instead of just enforcing the bylaws for noise, garbage and parking that they already had. This is an injustice, especially because it is negatively going to affect North Bay when less students and landlords choose to live here because they either can’t find affordable housing or the landlords can’t afford to purchase a house for only a couple [of] students to live in it.

Some students surveyed said they felt their contributions to the City of North Bay were being overlooked. One respondent said:

Students bring a large population of people to a very small city… we spend our money here, we volunteer, we do all sorts of good things for the community.

Another student commented:

Students need to be seen as more than a bunch of rowdy kids; we work and study hard, hold down jobs, and volunteer in a huge variety of ways within the community all while attending classes and making time to enjoy our university or college careers.

As noted above, the City received correspondence from homeowners voicing concerns about “single family” neighbourhoods being transformed into “student ghettoes.” These types of concerns should not form the basis for bylaws that regulate rental housing.  Instead, municipalities should work to encourage inclusionary zoning and should challenge stereotypes about a particular group or groups within the community. 

In response to a letter from the OHRC which asked the City to comment on the intent of the bylaw with regard to student housing, the City stated:

The intent of the By-law is to regulate Rental Housing. The By-law does not single out students or any Code protected group for that matter. The concept of the By-law may have arisen out of complaints regarding student housing, however, it does not mean that the intent of the By-law is to regulate student housing. Student housing is one component of the overall rental housing market within our area. The By-law is meant to complement other City of North Bay By-laws and help to maintain the character of residential areas.[11]

The OHRC acknowledges that, on more than one occasion, the City communicated that it cannot target students. For example, City officials explained in responses to emailed complaints from homeowners that the City cannot prevent students from living in an area, and the City cannot pass bylaws that prevent a group of students from renting a house together.[12]

3.3 Alternatives to the bylaw

As described above, the City has identified the goals of its bylaw as protecting health and safety, preventing nuisance, and protecting residential amenity, character and stability.

Tools other than the bylaw exist to address these goals. For example:

  • Existing provisions in the Fire Code and Building Code work to protect the health and safety of renters.
  • In 2009, the City supported a Town and Gown initiative to establish voluntary inspections of rentals offered on Nipissing University and Canadore College’s “off-campus” housing websites. While the plan was to have voluntary inspections which could then be posted online (so that students could select the safest units) it appears that the initiative did not get off the ground.[13]
  • A City representative noted that in 2009, building services and property standards complaints experienced a “marked decrease in complaints” and went on to say that “one of the significant factors in the reduction was public awareness – certainly the City’s bylaw enforcement officer’s presence in the City did not go unnoticed.” The City representative commented that the formation of a “good neighbourhood housing committee” also had a “very positive impact on the issues surrounding student housing in the community.”[14]
  • Bicycle patrols by the North Bay Police Service in September 2011 appeared to reduce noise issues. Materials disclosed by the City reveal that City staff received positive feedback from homeowners about this initiative.[15]
  • A student body council suggested block parties and other student/home owner relationship building events (such as student/owner committees) to address tension.[16]

The City, however, says that the bylaw is a necessary element of its rental housing regulation regime. The City stated:

The By-law is meant to complement other City of North Bay By-laws and help to maintain the character of well-established residential areas. We have enforced existing by-laws and continue to communicate with the public to educate them regarding this By-law.[17]

The City takes the position that its bylaw is achieving positive results. The City comments:

In the administration of this By-law, the City of North Bay is protecting tenants’ rights to amenities as prescribed by the Ontario Building Code including acceptable levels of building fire safety, building safety in use, building health, indoor living conditions, privacy and view to the outdoors, and conservation of buildings are being ensured. These are all clearly defined objectives of the Ontario Building Code and can be found in Table, Division A, Part 2…

of the Ontario Building Code and are the premise on which the prescriptive requirements are based.[18]

The City provided the OHRC with results of inspections that were completed as part of the rental housing licensing program to date, where deficiencies were found in more than a quarter of buildings inspected. Breaches included deficiencies with respect to Electrical Safety Authority standards, illegal apartments that raised fire separation issues, missing or insufficient carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, safety issues involving basement bedrooms, ventilation issues, missing or broken handrails, weather stripping problems, unsafe exterior stairs or decks, lack of a self-closing device between dwelling and attached garage, and structural issues.[19]

3.4 Implementing the bylaw

In Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensingthe OHRC recommends that municipalities that are considering rental housing licensing consult with groups who are likely to be affected by that licensing, through accessible, well-advertised general meetings and also through targeted outreach to vulnerable or marginalized groups.[20]

The City carried out public consultations before enacting the bylaw. Students told the OHRC that they were concerned about the timing of the consultations (as the public meetings were held in May and June, when many students had left North Bay for the summer), and a lack of student involvement in the process. While a number of tenants surveyed said that they were aware of the bylaw before it was passed, many said they were unaware of the City’s consultation process for the bylaw.

The OHRC received a submission from a homeowner in North Bay asserting:

The bylaw was created in consultation with the landlords, tenants, the College, the University, the Fire Department, the Police, the student Councils and the Home Owners. Input from all parties was considered. At every stage the City of North Bay held Town hall meetings and apprised all parties as to what was being considered and objections, or suggested improvements were evaluated and considered …

Materials disclosed to the OHRC by the City show that, from approximately 2008 to 2011, the City conducted consultations on the bylaw. In a March 28, 2012 letter to the OHRC, the City described its consultation as extensive,[21] and states that it met with “a wide variety of interest groups including landlords, tenants, neighbourhood residents, Legal Aid Clinic, District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board, North Bay Police, Canadore College Administration and Student Union, Nipissing University Administration and Student Union and various City Departments responsible for enforcing existing City By-laws.”[22] The City also said that it held public meetings to discuss the bylaw, and anyone in the community was welcome to attend.[23] The City also states: “The development of this By-law was well covered in local media and any person who felt that they were affected by the By-law was welcome to speak to City Staff or directly to City Council.”[24]

It appears that, while the City’s advertising for and timing of public meetings were not optimal, the scope of the City’s outreach was appropriate.

In Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensingthe OHRC recommends that licensing bylaws be rolled out in a consistent, non-discriminatory way.[25]

The City rolled out its bylaw in areas of the City heavily populated by students. The City indicates that this process is not intended to target students. The City contends that the phased-in approach was used to allow staff time and resources to be allocated appropriately, and to ensure the bylaw was well transitioned into the community. The City reported that it received the highest number of complaints from the area to which the bylaw first applies.

While the bylaw came into effect on May 1, 2012, a media report on September 14, 2012 said:

Between 45 and 50 licences have been issued or are in the process of being issued. But the city has indicated there may be more than 200 landlords who should now be licensed.[26]

A media report on January 13, 2013 said that 84 licences had been issued or were being processed.[27]

The lack of immediate and widespread landlord compliance has limited the OHRC’s ability to fully measure the bylaw’s impacts at this stage.

3.5 The current housing environment

In Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensingthe OHRC said:

In accordance with the 2005 Provincial Policy Statement,[28] municipalities should provide for an appropriate range of housing types and densities required to meet projected requirements of current and future residents by, among other things, establishing and implementing minimum targets for providing housing that is affordable to low and moderate income households.[29]

Throughout the inquiry, the OHRC heard from some tenants and organizations that the current housing environment is a tough one – with rising prices and decreasing availability of rental units. For example, one organization said that the housing market is “consistently challenging with high rental costs and low vacancy rates.”

Another organization said that there are people “paying $650.00 a month for a room, sharing one bathroom with 5 or 6 other rooms.” The organization went on to say that people face challenges getting housing based on “[d]isability, receipt of public assistance and ancestry” and that “landlords would rather make their money from students than those on disability.”

A tenant who as a single parent said:

Landlords in North Bay are very picky on who they rent to. … I had one landlord who said he didn’t want to rent to me because I have a teenager. He said teenagers “hang around outside too much and make noise.” …

When I first moved to North Bay I was temporarily on OW, I found they didn’t want to rent to me because I was on the system, so I ended up taking an apartment I didn’t like. Once I started working, I looked for better housing and found landlords were more willing to rent to me because I have an ‘employment income.’

A student who is a single mother said:

Almost all rental housing offered is geared towards students (offering single room in a house or shared apartment).

On the other hand, one student said the “[h]ousing vacancy rate in this city is very small” and another student tenant recently told the OHRC:

I have moved because of rent increase. My landlord increased our rent by $400 and demanded we add an extra bedroom. We could not find another person so we all split up and moved to new locations. I was paying $525 for my portion of the rent before and am now paying $795. for my apartment…

Some students emphasized the difficulty of finding affordable housing close to school. For example, one student tenant said:

There aren’t as many available residences close to the school and when it is, it is usually too expensive, unless it is low income or there are many students living in it.

The City stated:

We would suggest that [any increasing cost and decreasing availability of rental housing] is not related to the implementation of the Rental Housing By-law. The vacancy rate in the City, as reported by CMHC, changed from 2.3% in April 2010 to 1.1% in April 2011 to 2.4% in April 2012. … This suggests that it should actually be easier to find rental accommodation after the implementation of the By-law. Finally, it will always be difficult to find housing in desirable areas simply as a fact of supply and demand and the landlord’s ability to demand higher rents because of that.[30]


[1] Confirmed by letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, April 2, 2013.

[2] Letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, September 28, 2012.

[3] The Corporation of the City of North Bay By-Law No. 2012-55, Residential Rental Housing Licensing By-Law p. 2.

[4] Report Number CSBU 2011-36 to City Council, February 28, 2011, p. 1.

[5] E-mail to the OHRC from North Bay resident, March 13, 2012.

[6] E-mail to the OHRC from North Bay resident, March 16, 2012.

[7] E-mail to the OHRC from North Bay resident, March 16, 2012.

[8] E-mail to the OHRC from North Bay resident, March 14, 2012.

[9] Email to the City, April 29, 2011.

[10] Correspondence to North Bay City Council and Mayor from a resident, forwarded via email on October 3, 2010.

[11] Letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, September 28, 2012.

[12] Emails from City staff, October 1, 2010.

[13] Town and Gown meeting minutes, September 14, 2009, p. 2-3; Letter to the OHRC September 28, 2012.

[14] Email from City staff, January 27, 2010.

[15] Emails to City staff, September 5, 2011 and September 13, 2011.

[16] Letter from student council to City, undated.

[17] Letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, September 28, 2012.

[18] Letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, September 28, 2012.

[19] Letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, September 28, 2012.

[20] Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing, OHRC, recommendation 2.

[21] Letter from the City’s Chief Administrative Officer to OHRC Executive Director dated March 28, 2012

[22] In an August 13, 2012 letter to the OHRC, the City reiterated that it had “regular” meetings with Canadore College and Nipissing University about student housing and the bylaw.

[23] Letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, September 28, 2012.

[24] Letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, September 28, 2012.

[25] Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing, OHRC, recommendation 4.

[26] Gord Young, North Bay Nugget, “City enforcing housing bylaw…” September 14, 2012.

[27] Gord Young, North Bay Nugget, “Recent bylaw moves into second phase…” January 13, 2013.

[28] Provincial Policy Statement, Government of Ontario, 2005, section 1.4 (Housing).

[29] Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing, OHRC, recommendation 5.

[30] Letter from the City’s counsel to the OHRC, September 28, 2012.


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