Lousy landlords targeted

There’s a boost for the local economy from the initial results of a pilot program to proactively enforce property standards on rental housing in the city. The project has uncovered some horror stories such as a student living in an unheated garage, and significant public health problems in some high-rises.

In the first third of an 18 month program the three part-time bylaw officers in “Project Compliance” have inspected 465 properties and issued 661 orders to correct over property standard and yard maintenance violations. Nearly 40 percent of the identified problems were corrected quickly by the offending landlords, and so far only 39 charges have been laid.

Normally property standards are only enforced on a complaint basis, butmultiple grievances over student housing around McMaster and Mohawk led city officials to explore legal options for action, including the possible licensing of rental properties. But it was deemed illegal to limit such measures to just some parts of the city, so council agreed a year ago to try aproactive enforcement effort funded from parking reserves.

Marty Hazell, Joe Xamin and Glyn Wide presented the results of the first six months to the planning committee earlier this month. Hazel reported that just over half the targeted landlords quickly corrected their shortcomings, often at a cost of thousands of dollars. “These are things that we would not have gone after before unless there was a complaint,” he noted. “We’re looking for those things, we’re targeting our problem locations, we’re knocking on the doors and property owners are complying.”

Xamin detailed specific actions across all eight wards of the former city of Hamilton, including a house in the west end where officers “didn’t realize there was something behind” the overgrown vegetation. “It took seven bins, those huge industrial bins, to remove all the debris now you can see the house.”

In the ward that includes Mohawk College, officers found a 10 room house occupied by nine students, one of whom “was living in a converted garage with no heat and a little sink at the back of the unit.” Glyn Wide explainedthat the landlord “owns 15 houses” in that ward and the city has executed search warranties on two of those properties.

“He’s now facing charges and he came to see me one day and he wanted to know if the city was particularly targeting him, to which I replied, yes,” said Wide. “So he now wants to work with the city as best possible.”

Most of the targeting properties are houses, but several high-rise apartments were subjected to blitz inspections. In one, officers found 40 empty units and “a lot of health issues with respect to bedbugs and mice” as well as many units missing kitchen vents and insulation.

“Residents are reluctant to complain,” explained Xamin. “We were able to get in to deal with some of these issues.”

Other apartments had holes in the ceiling, unsafe balconies, mold and rotting cupboards, where tenants living in poverty were reluctant to complain, said Xamin. He estimated that total repairs already completed as a result of the inspections almost certainly exceeds $400,000.

“That would be spent locally within stores, with contractors and suppliers,” he suggested. “We don’t see that direct impact here at the city but I think it’s the impact to the community impact to the property assessment, so if that owner goes to sell that property there’s the direct impact to the assessment of property and impact to the neighbourhood.”

Xamin believes forcing the cleanup of the worst properties on a street will encourage neighbours to also invest in their homes. Thus far, the program has cost the city about $240,000, with about 10 percent of that amount recovered through fees and fines, and likely more to come as charges work their way through the courts. However, Hazel and Xamin both warned that it’s unlikely the proactive enforcement will achieve full cost recovery. A full financial picture won’t be available until after the project ends in December, and at that point councillors will have to decide whether it continues.

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Originally posted at http://hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=912

AuthorCATCH News


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