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Letter to the Mayor and Members of Council about the City of Toronto’s proposed new regulatory framework for multi-tenant houses

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July 12, 2021

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John Elvidge
City of Toronto
City Clerk’s Office
13th fl. W.,
100 Queen St. West
Toronto ON M5H 2N2

Dear Mayor Tory and Members of Council:

Re: Toronto City Council meeting, Wednesday July 14, 2021
Item: Planning and Housing Committee’s proposed “New Regulatory Framework for Multi-tenant Houses” – Committee Report No. PH25.10

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) welcomes this opportunity to provide comment on the proposed “New Regulatory Framework for Multi-tenant Houses,” adopted by the Planning and Housing Committee on June 28, 2021, and scheduled to be considered by Toronto City Council on July 14, 2021.

City-wide permissions for multi-tenant houses
The OHRC is pleased that the framework implements human rights principles and “would establish city-wide permissions for multi-tenant houses.” 

Certain groups protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) are more likely to require low-cost, affordable housing, such as multi-tenant houses. This is particularly true for the grounds of age, sex, gender identity and expression, receipt of public assistance, disability (including mental health), marital and family status, citizenship, place of origin and race. People identified by these grounds are negatively and disproportionately affected when multi-tenant housing is restricted. 

All municipalities, including the City of Toronto, must comply with the Code. The Code applies to the Planning Act, the Municipal Act and the City of Toronto Act. The Code applies to planning decisions and bylaws, and prevails when there are conflicts. The City of Toronto has a legal requirement to make sure it does not impose unnecessary restrictions on multi-tenant houses that could breach the Code.

The City must also ensure it adheres to the Provincial Policy Statement, 2020 (the PPS). According to section 1.4.3 of the PPS, planning authorities should permit and facilitate residential intensification which, according to page 50 of the PPS, includes “rooming houses.” Section 4.4 of the PPS emphasizes that the PPS “shall be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”   

For many years, the OHRC has advocated for multi-tenant houses to be allowed as of right in Toronto’s residential neighbourhoods, consistent with the same land use principles as any other housing. In 2012, the OHRC released In the zone: Housing, human rights and municipal planning, after significant research and consultation with planners and others in the housing sector. The guide set out recommended practices for municipalities to avoid discrimination in planning processes, including:

  • Municipal regulation must not directly or indirectly keep certain groups of people out of neighbourhoods
  • Municipalities should focus on legitimate land use planning – looking at things like parking, built form, and infrastructure like sewers and roads – instead of “people zoning.”

In a March 6, 2013, submission to the City of Toronto Planning and Growth Management Committee, the OHRC said that a draft city-wide zoning bylaw before the committee fell “short of both the [Ontario Human Rights] Code and the City’s Housing Charter, because it [among other things, did] not allow rooming houses as of right in most parts of Toronto.” In an October 21, 2013, submission to the same committee, the OHRC reiterated this position. 

Licensing considerations
The proposed framework also includes “enhanced multi-tenant operator licensing requirements to promote health and safety.”

In 2013, the OHRC released Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing. While that report focused mainly on small-scale rentals, its recommendations are also useful in this context and include:

  • Consider the Ontario Human Rights Code when crafting licensing requirements, refer to the Code in the licensing bylaw, and refer to the Code in materials issued to people applying for licenses
  • Roll out the bylaw in a consistent, non-discriminatory way
  • Work to secure existing housing stock by grandparenting any multi-tenant houses that were legally allowed to operate before the licensing bylaw
  • Avoid arbitrary bedroom caps
  • Protect tenants in cases of rental shutdown by informing them of health and safety issues when they are first raised, and by making sure they are not displaced without recourse or assistance
  • Make sure licensing fees are fair, so that if they are passed on to renters, there is a minimal impact on affordability.

In summary, it is past time for the City of Toronto to increase access to affordable housing options by granting city-wide permissions for multi-tenant houses. The OHRC urges City Council to approve the proposed framework.


Ena Chadha, LL.B., LL.M.
Chief Commissioner

cc:        OHRC Commissioners