City staff to investigate potential rental licensing program

Sydenham District Councillor Conny Glenn speaks to a motion to investigate a rental licensing program for her district and the Kingscourt Rideau District. Screen captured image.

Following a vote by Kingston City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, the City of Kingston will investigate a potential rental licensing program for landlords in the districts of Sydenham and Kingscourt Rideau. The item was introduced by Sydenham District Councillor Conny Glenn and is an update to a draft rental licensing program, first introduced back in 2017.

At a meeting on May 2, 2017, councillors voted to consider a by-law to regulate rental properties containing one to three residential units. Implementation of the licensing by-law was put on hold until the City completed its comprehensive zoning by-law by 2022. 

With the provincial government recently removing site plan agreement requirements for residential developments with less than 10 units, some councillors felt the need to do more to ensure the “health and safety” of rental units within the City. 

The new motion, seconded by Meadowbrook-Strathcona Councillor Jeff McLaren, will see City staff review and update the 2018 draft rental licensing program to better reflect the changes the new provincial legislation will have on Kingston’s rental market. The motion called on staff to investigate a phased approach to implementation, beginning with Sydenham District and Kingscourt-Rideau District, both located in Kingston’s downtown area. 

According to Councillor Glenn, the motion was a direct result of the housing conditions she observed while going door-to-door during the recent municipal election.

“This came about while I was campaigning and seeing the poor condition of housing in my district, rental housing that was sub-standard. When you’re seeing the health, safety, and well-being of the citizens you’re representing being put at risk, I think that we are compelled to move to do something about this,” said Glenn.

“There were infestations; black mould was reported. I had volunteers who were unwilling to go up some of the steps, and we don’t have the mechanism to sort of handle this very well… There needs to be a recognition that there’s an imbalance [in] the power structure of a landlord renting to a tenant. Tenants are often afraid to come forward when the housing conditions are so poor, particularly in this time of housing crisis.” 

The motion drew support from Brandon Tozzo, Councillor for Kingscourt-Rideau District, which will be one of the first two districts to implement the new rental licensing program under the phased approach approved by Council. “Kingscourt-Rideau is one of the areas with, I believe, a considerable landlord-tenant imbalance of power… I’m curious to see what [staff] come up with, and how we can equalize the balance. I find with our lack of vacancy rates, it’s given considerable power to landlords in that relationship.” 

Not all Councillors were initially in favour of the expanded rental licensing program, as Pittsburgh District’s Ryan Boehme warned it may add additional “rules” to an already regulated industry.

“I’m just a little bit worried that we’re adding more and more rules on top of things, without the actual teeth to enforce them,” Boehme said, noting that additional regulations may not solve the issue of problematic landlords. He questioned whether staff currently lack the ability to enforce the requirements of the City’s property standards bylaw. 

City of Kingston Commissioner of Community Services Paige Agnew suggested a licensing program would put the onus on the landlord as opposed to the tenant, which is not currently the case under the City’s complaints-based approach to enforcement. “What a program would do from a licensing perspective is require that all residential rental units obtain a license before they’re able to rent the unit. So, it puts more of a proactivity on the landlord themselves, as opposed to requiring the tenant to identify specific property standard issues that may exist within their units.”

After additional debate, an amendment to Councillor Glenn’s motion was put forward by Councillor Boehme, which recommended that staff also consider “the pros and cons of a rental licensing program and an analysis of other possible options for regulation,” with the added considerations to be included in the final report. 

The motion as amended passed by unanimous vote. Staff are expected to report back to the City’s Administrative Policies Committee with an updated rental licensing program by Q4 2023. 

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