Toronto – The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) today released a report on its inquiry into rental housing licensing in the City of Waterloo. The report outlines what the OHRC heard, identifies the City’s response to some concerns, gives recommendations for advancing human rights, and refers to two parts of the bylaw where human rights issues remain.
The OHRC began the inquiry in January 2012, and in March/April 2012 surveyed tenants, landlords and organizations dealing with rental housing. Over 225 individuals and organizations responded to the survey. The OHRC followed up with some respondents, and reviewed materials disclosed by the City and housing research from other sources. All of this is reflected in the final report.
The OHRC looked at various parts of the bylaw, including per-person floor area requirements, gross floor area requirements and licensing fees, to see if they reduced the availability of low-cost rental housing and in turn disadvantaged Code-protected groups who rely on that housing.
The City worked with the OHRC and refined the bylaw in many positive ways, such as adding references to human rights, applying the bylaw city-wide, educating landlords about human rights and agreeing to review the bylaw regularly.
The OHRC considers these steps to be promising practices for other municipalities to consider, and has included them in Room for everyone, a guide on human rights and rental housing licensing that was released earlier this month.
However, there are two important issues that the OHRC was unable to resolve with the City – per-person floor area requirements and minimum separation distances (or MSDs).
The bylaw’s requirement of 7 square metres per person in bedrooms is far more stringent than the requirements in the Building Code. This means that many bedrooms that meet provincial standards are un-rentable to couples and other tenants who wish to share a bedroom – which restricts the housing options of many people who identify under the protected grounds of Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
During the inquiry, the OHRC heard concerns about families who wanted their children to share a bedroom, and landlords said they were restricting rentals to smaller family groups than they had in the past. Landlords reported having to ask intrusive questions about potential renters’ living arrangements and for details on how bedrooms would be used.
The OHRC believes this section of the bylaw is discriminatory in some cases, and will challenge per-person floor area requirements in a Commission-Initiated Application to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
“Waterloo has done a lot of good work on this bylaw, and we have worked hard to resolve the human rights issues,” said Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall. “But the per-person bedroom area requirement is a systemic issue that can cause long-term harm to a community by reducing the amount of housing. So we’re taking this step to get the requirement removed.”
The second area of concern is the use of minimum separation distances (MSDs) that limit housing options for many vulnerable members of the community. Even though the licensing bylaw does not contain MSDs, they exist in the City’s zoning bylaw relating to lodging houses.
By changing the definition of lodging houses, the new system captures some “single housekeeping units” that were not affected by MSDs in the past. This has led to landlords closing bedrooms and renting to smaller households to get exempted from the more onerous rules for lodging houses.
The OHRC will comment on MSDs during the City’s current review of its zoning bylaw. As long as these MSDs are in the zoning bylaw, the City of Waterloo is at risk of human rights complaints.
“We’ll continue to monitor this, and remain open to working with the City to eliminate discrimination,” said Hall.
Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall is available for interviews from:
10:30 am –12:30 pm
2:00 – 4:00 pm.
Please call Afroze Edwards at 416-314-4528 to arrange for an interview.
For more information:
Senior Communications Officer
Ontario Human Rights Commission