City councillors require the presence of Barrie’s absentee landlords.
Coun. Clare Riepma’s motion to amend the business licensing bylaw to allow a three-year pilot project requiring absentee landlords to obtain a business licence before renting out a single family home, a semi-detached home or a townhouse unless the owner lives on the premise. The affected area is bounded by Duckworth Street, Steel Street, Penetanguishene Road and the city limits on the north side of Georgian Drive in Ward 1.
The motion was given initial approval Monday night. It will be considered for final approval at the May 10 city council meeting.
“It’s a cry for help that we are responding to here,” Riepma said. “What we’re trying to do is drive compliance, not punishment.”
This project is necessary, Riepma says, because of complaints that absentee landlords often don’t manage their tenants or their properties well, mentioning reports of overcrowded houses, piles of garbage and litter, illegal parking, etc., which is unfair to residents who live in the homes they own and maintain.
He says the city’s boarding/lodging/rooming house bylaw can’t be enforced, the zoning regulations are ineffective and the property standards bylaw doesn’t work, even with a higher level of enforcement.
Riepma, who represents this part of Barrie, has said residents in the area have been asking for something to be done for years, and that he receives phone calls and e-mails daily on the matter.
A petition on the city’s website last year was signed by 535 people in only a few days and a new neighbourhood group started last month because of this issue.
“The licensing piece is something that is different from the enforcement piece that we have been dealing with all these years and has been proven to be singularly ineffective,” said Riepma, the Ward 1 councillor. “The licensing part… is that every year or every two years a landlord would come in to get a licence and you know 90 per cent of them (would hear) — ‘you’re doing a great job, here’s your licence, have a great day’.
“It’s those other ones that we (would) get a chance to look them in the eyeball and say ‘you know, we’ve had a lot of complaints and there’s a problem and what do you think you should do about it?’,” he added.
But Deputy Mayor Barry Ward said there could be unintended consequences to the licensing.
“It looks like about a $600 licensing fee; that’s what other municipalities have,” he said. “If you were a single parent looking to rent a home in that area, that would be 600 extra dollars you would have to pay because I’m sure the landlord would make whoever’s going to rent it pay that fee, which is a considerable amount.
“Six students renting it for a year is one thing. If it’s one family trying to rent a home in the east end… that’s having a $600 extra cost on them. I think that’s something to at least keep in mind,” Ward said. “Or if somebody is, for example, going on a sabbatical for a year and wants to rent out their home for a year, that’s another $600 they have to pay.
"There are all these exceptions out there that are going to be caught by this bylaw," the deputy-mayor added. "They’re really not the people, I don’t think, that we’re trying to target with this, so we don’t make our impossible rental situation in Barrie even worse.”
Coun. Gary Harvey’s amendment changed Riepma’s original motion, moving the pilot project’s timing back four months to start Jan. 1, 2022 and end Dec. 31, 2024. There would also be provisions for inspection upon the initial licence application and yearly afterward at the discretion of city staff.
Additional staffing levels and costs associated with the implementation of this project, along with a licensing and inspection fee schedule, would aim at making the pilot project revenue neutral. Staff would also create a graduated fines schedule associated with violations of the bylaw to act as a deterrent to multiple offenders.
“(It’s) to put some power in staff’s hands. … That way the addresses that are not a problem don’t have to worry about getting yearly inspections and that can be at the discretion of staff,” Harvey said.
Coun. Jim Harris added that staff evaluate the success of the pilot based on the number of bylaw infractions reported in the area, by Sept. 30, 2024.
“What we don’t want is to create some sort of false hope that we’ve done something and nothing changes,” he said. “We need more than ‘here’s a licence, hope it works’.”
Coun. Sergio Morales added that a meeting be scheduled between Georgian College president MaryLynn West-Moynes and supporting staff, as well as Mayor Jeff Lehman, Couns. Riepma and Morales to discuss the need to build student housing on Georgian College land.
“Here’s the root cause… this is a supply issue,” Morales said. “We can pretend it’s not students and we can just focus on the boogie man of the absentee landlord, whoever that is, but the fact is that Georgian College enrolment has gone up significantly…(and student housing has not kept pace).”
Riepma said the area bounded by Duckworth Street, Steel Street, Penetanguishene Road and the city limits on the north side of Georgian Drive was chosen for the pilot project because it has the highest concentration of absentee landlords in the city and has had the most issues. He said there are about 2,700 homes in the pilot-project area, with approximately 700 of them owned by absentee landlords.