New rules for rooming houses in Toronto come into effect next month

Multi-tenant houses, also known as rooming houses, have been the source of debate in Toronto for decades. Will new city bylaws, set to hit the books next month, make a difference? Pat Taney reports.

By Pat Taney

In a follow up to a Speaker’s Corner report earlier this week, we’re taking a closer look at rooming houses in the city of Toronto. A big change is set to happen in March that will allow more rooming houses to operate in pockets of the city where they were once forbidden and create new rules for property owners running them.

Back in December of 2022, City Council voted to overhaul the city’s bylaws concerning multi-tenant homes, often called rooming houses. As it stands now, licensed rooming houses are allowed in only certain parts of the city but prohibited in East York, Scarborough and North York.

Come March 31st, they’ll be allowed city-wide, but property owners must follow a new set of guidelines and licensing requirements.

The city hopes it addresses a myriad of issues regarding unregulated rooming houses that have been a source of problems for neighbours who live near them and the tenants who call them home.

“Under the new framework, operators will be required to obtain a licence and comply with consistent standards, which are being introduced to protect the safety of tenants and respond to neighbourhood concerns.” A City Spokesperson told CityNews.

By-law puts more pressure on landlords to deal with problems

Frank Ghazal, who rents space in an illegal rooming house in East York, is hopeful the new rules give tenants like him a voice. He rents a room just over 100 square feet and pays $980 a month. He told Citynews there are several safety and sanitary issues inside the home but because the home isn’t legally allowed to operate as a rooming house, he’s been too afraid to speak up.

“I feel trapped because this is all I can afford right now. ”

One of the new requirements will force property owners, who obtain a license, to include a detailed plan on how they’ll address tenant concerns.

Property owners must also develop property maintenance plans, and comply with the Ontario Building, fire and electrical codes. Requirements city staff say they’ll be checking.

“This will include a dedicated enforcement team, annual inspections, increased fines, a new Multi-Tenant House Licensing Tribunal and other enforcement tools.”

New regulations welcomed, but tenant advocates have concerns

Rooming houses have been a source of debate for decades in Toronto. Neighbours who live near them complain of unkept properties and other safety issues. Tenants who call them home,

have felt abandoned by the city and province when they try to raise concerns about living standards and property maintenance.

But housing advocates say rooming houses are a necessity in a city where there is a lack of affordable housing .

“The people who live in rooming houses are the ones that have the most trouble finding housing in the regular rental market.” Said Tenant Advocate Melissa Goldstein. “The only thing that they can find is shared accommodation in a rooming house.”

Ghazal said he’s tried for years to find other accommodations but because he’s on government assistance, it’s been a challenge.

“The more reputable landlords, who actually maintain their properties properly, are not willing to rent to people like me on fixed incomes.”

City Council recognized that when they adopted the new set of rules, calling multi-tenant homes a critical supply of affordable housing.

“For these tenants, it means either they live in the rooming house or they’re homeless and there’s really no in between. Goldstein said.

While the new framework brings some welcomed changes, there are fears the stepped-up licensing requirements could actually hurt the supply.

“My big concern is landlords who are afraid of all of the requirements the city is going to be imposing through the licensing regime, will get scared and choose to get out of the rooming house business, and tenants will lose their housing and become homeless.” Goldstein said.

But city staff say they’ve been working to educate property owners and get them ready.

“To protect tenants and preserve affordable housing, the City will work collaboratively with operators to bring them into the new licensing regulatory framework. Staff will educate operators and provide sufficient help for them to come into compliance with the new framework; the City will not close multi-tenant houses unless an immediate health and safety risk is identified.”

Goldstein urges any property owner of a rooming house to reach out for help.

“The message that I want to send to landlords is that I understand it is challenging, but the city is committed to working on finding ways for people to get licensed.” She said. “Please stay in the business because we really need you.”

The city has a step-by-step guide to walk tenants and property owners through the new rules.

If you have an issue, story, or question you’d like us to look into reach out to us here.

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