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Absentee landlords will require licence to rent in Barrie’s east end

Three-year pilot project receives tentative approval

Absentee landlords have been put on notice.

Barrie councillors gave tentative approval on Monday to an amendment to the business licensing bylaw that would require absentee landlords to obtain a business licence to rent out a single-family home, a semi-detached home, or a townhouse.

The three-year pilot project, to begin in January 2022, would only apply to properties bounded by Duckworth Street, Steel Street, Penetanguishene Road and the city limits on the north side of Georgian Drive in Ward 1.

To implement and enforce the pilot, it’s estimated the cost will be $756,000, including the hiring of additional staff.

  • Two (2) additional Temporary full time Municipal Law Enforcement
    Officer I positions;
  • Two (2) additional Fire Prevention Officer positions (based on a
    rate of 1 Officer per every 400 homes);
  • Two (2) additional Zoning Officers;
  • The allocations for the associated vehicle, workstation, and
    uniform, etc.,

In May, Ward 1 Coun. Clare Riepma pushed for an amendment to the business licensing bylaw, telling city council that neighbourhoods in the east part of the city have seen an explosion in the number of students attending Georgian College, and in turn, needing a place to live.

“We have neighbourhoods that are really suffering,” Riepma told council at the time. “We have a lot of complaints about garbage and a lot of cars, and just houses that are rundown. The whole neighbourhood ends up looking kind of rundown.”

The change to the bylaw would not affect landlords who live at the rental property.

Staff noted in its report to council that a concern has been identified that regulations that apply to one area of the community may not be defendable in the courts or at a Human Rights Tribunal.

It’s estimated that there are approximately 500 to 800 homes within the proposed pilot project area where the owner does not appear to reside in the home as they have a separate mailing address. Staff indicated while it’s not always an indicator of a rental, it’s generally known to be the case.

“At the time of this report, there is no ability to determine the exact number of rental homes that would fall under the pilot project, so staff has utilized 650 units for its calculations.”

The hires are needed because a review of current resources revealed there is no capacity within the existing staff complement to undertake and implement a new residential rental licensing system, even on a pilot basis, without a reduction in other core duties.

The proposed fees for the licensing of rental units in the area would result in a cost of $967 per unit for the review of the application and initial inspections. The staff report says a set of fees have been proposed that would achieve 87 per cent cost recovery – but only if 100 per cent of the estimated number of units applied for licensing and the units did not require multiple inspections. The proposed fees are based on the average time to review, inspect and issue the licences and reflect existing fees for other similar applications. The general tax base would be subsidizing the remaining 13 per cent of the cost of the program.

Staff reviewed 10 municipalities including Windsor, Ottawa, London and Thorold, and found most of them continued to use the equivalent of their property standards and yard maintenance bylaws to address concerns related to property matters at rental units and typically did not use licensing regulations for compliance.

“They were able to achieve improved compliance as they had higher levels of staff resources available to enforce their bylaws than is currently available in Barrie,” according to the report. “Hiring of the additional staff proposed within this report will assist in allowing staff to proactively locate and ensure compliance of those locations that are not compliant with existing bylaws as well as operating as residential rental units.”

As the workload for staff is increased, the cost recovery could be limited.

“Typically, those who were already compliant may seek to license their property, and there may be significant time spent chasing non-compliance that isn’t recovered from fees or fines,” noted staff.

Riepma has said that the proposed change to the bylaw was a cry for help, and the goal was to drive compliance, not punishment.

At the time, Riepma said the pilot was necessary based on complaints that absentee landlords don’t manage their tenants or their properties well, noting reports of overcrowded houses, piles of garbage, litter, and illegal parking. He said it was unfair to residents who live in the homes they own and maintain.

The amendment of the business licensing bylaw must still be approved by city council at its meeting on October 25.