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Municipalities, advocates eye Hamilton as city becomes the first to create renoviction bylaw

The City of Hamilton is expected to become the first Ontario municipality to implement a bylaw around renovictions.

City council will vote next week to bring the bylaw into effect starting in 2025.

A renoviction is when a landlord evicts their tenants, citing renovations as the reason. Whether they complete that work or not, they then find new tenants and increase the rent.

Hamilton city council directed staff in April to bring back a list of options to halt bad-faith renovictions. At a committee meeting Wednesday, councillors voted unanimously in favour of the plan.

“The proposed bylaw would require all landlords city-wide to obtain a renovation license from the city prior to commencing any renovation work that requires an N-13 notice to be issued to a tenant,” Monica Ciriello, the director of licensing and bylaw services for the City of Hamilton, said. “We recognize, as a local government, we can’t prohibit a landlord from issuing an N-13, but we can use it as a starting point to obtain a municipal renovation license.”

Over the past few years, Ciriello said there’s been calls for action from tenants across the city to do something about the increase in renovictions.

“The objective, or the goal, is certainly to decrease bad faith evictions,” Ciriello added. “We believe that our bylaw will be able to assist in doing so by requiring a landlord to take steps to secure the appropriate documents prior to getting a renovation license. Those include things like a building permit, a report from a qualified engineer indicating that vacant possession is in fact required, a copy of the N-13 and, if required, arrangements are made between the landlord and the tenant for the duration of the renovation.”

Karen Andrews, a staff lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, said renovictions are happening across the province.

“We’re seeing it all the time. My colleagues in the clinic system – some of them are getting one or two a day,” Andrews said. “It’s because of the housing crisis. It’s because of the escalation of rent. It’s because landlords figure they should be getting more rent.”

Overall, Andrews said Ontario’s legislation around landlords who are renovating is effective, but something else is needed. That’s where Hamilton’s bylaw comes in.

“It is going to get rid of all the unfair, illegal, fraudulent renovation cases, I believe,” Andrews said. “I would really hope that other jurisdictions take a look at this and say: ‘Hey, this is a great idea. This is really affecting good people who just want to be tenants and live where they want to live.’”

WATERLOO REGION RENOVICTIONS

Waterloo Region ACORN, a housing advocacy group, has been pushing for renoviction bylaws in municipalities around the region. The chair of the group said Hamilton’s proposed bylaw is a step in the right direction.

“We were very much waiting for Hamilton’s to pass and see how they did it. Now that we have their information, we’re going to really be able to start, in earnest, pushing for our own renoviction bylaw,” Acer Bonaparte, a chair with Waterloo Region ACORN, said.

She explained that renoviction is a stressful and scary time for tenants.

“They feel, a lot of times, lost,” Bonaparte said. “It leaves them in a very vulnerable spot of hopelessness and desperation, and if they do have pre-existing troubles with mental health or substance use or anything, it really takes a toll on that because a place to stay is at the very base of our needs.”

Cities in Waterloo Region say staff are monitoring renoviction action.

The City of Kitchener said over the past year they have been working on housing-related studies including rental housing, eviction and displacement studies.

“In December 2023, staff advised that the council could approve the use of a rental replacement bylaw, which is a bylaw that can set conditions for the demolition of the rental building where there are six or more rental units,” a statement from the city said. “A draft bylaw to be considered by Kitchener city council is expected in the coming months.”

The City of Waterloo currently has staff looking at what a renoviction bylaw would entail. A bylaw review that would include renovictions will be presented on council on Monday.

“As part of our bylaw review process, the team will work with legal services, as well as consulting with other municipalities to see what they are doing and how it is working,” a statement from the city said. “We will be interested to see how things unfold in Hamilton.”

The City of Cambridge said it has no current plans to address renovictions.

“We are dedicated to monitoring trending issues for informed decision-making in the future to ensure the city continues to be a safe, inclusive and enjoyable community for all,” a statement said.

Hamilton city council is expected to put the final stamp of approval on the bylaw next Wednesday.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE BEING RENOVICTED

Andrews shared some advice for anyone being renovicted.

She said tenants should:

  • Communicate with their landlord and get all the details of the proposed renovations
  • Keep a journal to document all communication
  • Keep emails as possible evidence in a dispute
  • Track the tenancy in your building
  • Research the market rents in your neighbourhood
  • Google your landlord to see if they have a track record for renovictions
  • Bring in a contractor to assess any needed upgrades and a get a quote

Andrews calls these tenant-landlord conflicts “very bad news.”

“It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be unpleasant,” she explained. “You may be able to beat it back. You should go to your hearing or you should negotiate hard with your landlord about leaving.”

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