Are there stricter bylaws on the way for landlords?

A group of Ottawa tenants are pushing for municipal bylaw changes that would force landlords to fulfill housing repairs within a strict time limit and force those who are negligent to pay penalties.

The tenants, at a Herongate apartment building, held a rally earlier this month to call attention to a range of housing woes, including water shut offs and long repair times.

While there is concern about the safety of these tenants, some landlords say the issue is rarely black and white. “Perhaps there is a legitimate reason for small delays in repairs,” said Ottawa-based investor Brad Cartier.

“Implementing legal requirements on landlords is always a touchy subject as municipal and provincial legal frameworks already do not favour landlords. I am always concerned with professional renters taking advantage of landlords due to favourable legal mechanisms, as it happens all the time.

“If a bylaw were introduced to force landlords to make repairs, what would that look like? Could a tenant force a landlord to replace the carpet in a home because it is showing some wear and tear? I guess it comes to down to cosmetic repairs versus safety issues.”

Speaking to Ottawa Community News, one of the Herongate tenants said she has woken several times to find the water turned off in her unit with no prior notice. Other tenants complained they were given short notice prior to getting their patio doors replaced this past winter.

But Ottawa’s municipal bylaw doesn’t set out a specified timeline by which a landlord must complete an onsite project. It says: “The owner of the property shall repair, maintain and keep the property in accordance with the standards and take immediate action to eliminate any unsafe conditions.”

Timbercreek Communities, the owner of the Ottawa apartment building, said in a statement to CREW: “Timbercreek supports the notion that residents of all rental apartments are entitled to a minimum standard regarding maintenance and building upkeep. Timbercreek has a 24-hour initial response standard to all resident service requests.”

Since purchasing the property in July 2012, Timbercreek has spent a total of $18 million in capital repairs and renovations, and are projecting a total of $40 million to be invested in the property in the first 10 years of ownership.

Ottawa-based investor Bruce Firestone wouldn’t recommend a change to the municipal bylaws. “Regulations often backfire,” he said. “Ottawa brought in a tree protection bylaw, and the result was that people who had owned or properly managed their forest lots for generations clear cut their lands in anticipation of that bylaw. It was a mess.

“So I’d create a rating system for both groups – tenants and landlords – to rate each other. It would be fairer, faster, cheaper, self-regulating and would punish bad actors on both sides."

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