Two public interest inquiries by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) will explore if new rental housing licensing bylaws in North Bay and Waterloo create discriminatory barriers to rental housing. New bylaws in the two municipalities come into force in the next few months – Waterloo’s on April 1, 2012 and North Bay’s on May 1, 2012.
“Housing is a fundamental human right,” says OHRC Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall. “While rental housing licensing can be a valuable tool for promoting the safety and security of tenants, the ability to license must not be a license to discriminate. We want to make sure this isn’t happening.”
The inquiries are being conducted under the OHRC’s Human Rights Code mandate to promote, advance and protect human rights in Ontario. This includes identifying and working to eliminate discriminatory practices in areas such as housing. It will help the OHRC to discover potential discriminatory effects of licensing policies on Code-protected groups, identify possible solutions, and suggest ways municipalities can draft bylaws that respect and protect the human rights of tenants.
The bylaws impose restrictions on the number of occupants in rental properties by limiting both the size and number of bedrooms allowed. Other restrictions in the bylaws focus on preserving existing densities and neighbourhood character. Opponents content that these restrictions are aimed at student housing, and the OHRC has expressed concern that the rules may discriminate against families. Some tenants fear that the number of available rentals will be reduced, driving up rents. Local landlords have raised objections over the cost of the licences — as much as $450 per rental unit.
The inquiry will invite interested parties – tenants, landlords, community groups, advocates and service providers – in the North Bay and Waterloo areas to complete a survey about the new bylaws, online or in writing. The deadline for submissions is April 15, 2012.
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