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E-BLAST: Legal Rooming Houses = Safer Neighbourhoods for All

Don Valley Northerners know that I’ve spent many a summer evening pitching my bright pink tent in our local parks and chatting with neighbours about the topic du jour. Back in summer 2021, that meant having lengthy conversations about rooming houses. Council was considering a proposal to legalize multi-tenant houses (the formal name for rooming houses) city-wide, and folks in Don Valley North had a lot of questions and some genuine concerns. I think back on those conversations regularly—they were instrumental in guiding my work to make sure the proposal that came to Council covered all the bases to be effective across our city, suburbs and downtown alike.

In December 2022, one of the first things we did to kick off the new term of office was officially amend the Zoning Bylaws to allow multi-tenant houses across Toronto. This followed the consultations and discussions that took place during the previous term. Mayor John Tory was eager to get this bylaw through and start the process of bringing all rooming houses into compliance.  

After a year and a half of hard work from staff, I’m happy to share that the new framework for multi-tenant houses came into effect on March 31st, 2024. This is a monumental step in protecting the health and safety of thousands of tenants who have been living in unlicensed houses for years. Multi-tenant homes are an important part of our city’s housing supply—they’re significantly more affordable than a one-bedroom apartment or even a studio. These new rules also allow us to deal with many of the challenges neighbours have faced with multi-tenant houses over the years.

Prior to City Council legalizing multi-tenant houses city-wide, they were only legal in certain parts of downtown. As many of you know, that only lead to illegal and dangerous rooming houses popping up in the rest of the city. These rooming houses largely started as a form of student housing around suburban university and college campuses, like Seneca College here in Don Valley North. Over time, they became a mix of student tenants and newcomers in search of affordable first accommodations. This is part of why it was so hard to enforce the rooming house ban in court—judges did not want to kick students and new Torontonians out onto the street without reasonable housing alternatives.

Now, we have a framework in place that ensures multi-tenant houses are safer for both tenants and the surrounding neighbourhood. All operators of multi-tenant houses are now required to obtain a license from the City. If an operator doesn’t obtain a license or isn’t abiding by the new framework, we have tools to bring them into compliance. The new framework includes:

  • Consistent standards for multi-tenant homes, including a maximum number of rooms and parking requirements

  • Enhanced licensing requirements that promote health and safety for tenants

  • An effective enforcement and compliance program, including a dedicated enforcement team, annual inspections, increased fines, a Multi-Tenant House Licensing Tribunal, and more

  • A renovation program to support operators in bringing their properties up to standard, helping preserve affordable multi-tenant houses and protect affordability for renters

  • A comprehensive communications strategy to educate owners, operators, tenants, and communities about the new regulations and resources available

All of these tools work together to ensure multi-tenant houses can safely integrate into our neighbourhoods across Toronto. The regulations for the homes themselves were designed with many community concerns in mind, including parking, noise, waste, and more. I worked closely with Council colleagues to ensure that rooming houses in the suburbs were capped at six dwelling rooms per home to make sure they effectively integrate into our neighbourhoods. I have confidence that this framework is going to be a significant improvement from the unlicensed situations we’ve dealt with for so many years.

There are many resources on the City’s website to help during this transition period, including a Multi-Tenant House Operator Guide to assist operators in obtaining their license and bringing their property into compliance. The City’s website is also helpful for folks who live near a rooming house. It can help you understand the new framework and the City’s approach to implementation over the next few years.

If you’re a tenant currently living in a multi-tenant house, the City also has a dedicated webpage outlining your rights and connecting you with supports. Preserving tenancies and preventing evictions is central to the City’s approach. If your landlord hasn’t started to bring your home into compliance and you’re nervous about initiating that conversation, you can reach out to 311 or for support.

Making renters in multi-tenant homes feel like neighbours who are both welcome in and contribute to their neighbourhoods is the goal. I already have proof that the new framework is helping make that a reality. A tenant of a rooming house in Don Valley North reached out to me the other week and asked me to write this very column. They wanted to know how they could check to make sure their landlord was licensed and ask how to get their building licensed if it wasn’t already. That is a person who feels they are part of a community and is reaching out to help improve that community. They are looking after their tenant rights, but also the rights of others. That is only possible in an atmosphere of regulation.

Staff have planned a multi-year implementation period. The City is taking an education-first approach to bring operators into compliance. Our goal right now is not to penalize—it’s to teach landlords and tenants about the new framework and give everyone time to get on board. This includes a public education campaign that is starting to kick off now. However, we will take action if immediate health and safety risks are identified at a property. In a couple of years, we’ll switch over and start coming down hard on unlicensed and dangerous operators who have refused to come into compliance. We want the courts to have confidence in our fair implementation period, and then order shut-downs when we need them.

If you are a neighbour of a multi-tenant house or a tenant of one and you suspect it is not licensed, you should reach out and let my team know. Just as in the past, we will reach out to our bylaw officers and have them help the operator start the process of becoming licensed. If a multi-tenant house is causing property standards issues, parking challenges, or generating noise, let us know as you would for any other neighborhood concern. As a part of implementation, more officers have been hired in all four city districts. Let’s make good use of them during the early days of implementation.

The goal is to make sure everyone can feel at home, and feel safe at home, in our neighbourhoods. We need to offer a whole range of housing options to help tackle our affordability crisis and keep our neighbourhoods liveable, now and for generations to come. This new framework for multi-tenant houses takes us that much closer to achieving those goals.  


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