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Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing

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Over the past six years, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has monitored and reviewed various municipal approaches to regulating private rental housing. The OHRC’s mandate includes protecting the human rights of people who are vulnerable because of their age, receipt of public assistance, disability, family status, and other factors. This mandate applies to rental housing, because so many people who identify with grounds of the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) are renters. Our goal is to make sure that rental housing regulatory practices, even unintentionally, do not create barriers and discrimination in housing for vulnerable people.

In 2011, the OHRC released In the Zone: Housing, human rights and municipal planning. The OHRC examined how zoning provisions in municipal bylaws can affect the availability of housing for Code-protected groups. This guide is a companion to In the Zone, with a focus on licensing.

Room for everyone: Human rights and rental housing licensing addresses how licensing provisions in municipal bylaws may disadvantage groups protected by Ontario’s Human Rights Code (the Code),[1] gives an overview of human rights responsibilities in licensing rental housing, and makes recommendations to help municipalities protect the human rights of tenants.

Licensing bylaws seek to regulate rental housing by requiring that landlords operate their properties according to certain standards. Licensing bylaws may reasonably contain provisions relating to garbage and snow removal, maintenance, health and safety standards and parking. However, the OHRC is concerned about some other provisions, such as gross floor area requirements for bedrooms and living spaces that go beyond what is required by the Building Code, bedroom caps and minimum separation distances. These provisions may reduce the availability and range of rental housing (which is a key element of healthy neighbourhoods), and might contravene the Code by having an adverse impact on groups who are protected under the Code.

The main focus of this guide is on small-scale rentals. However, rooming or boarding houses are occasionally captured by rental housing licensing bylaws. This is one reason why we include information in this guide on minimum separation distances. For more discussion on how Code-protected groups might be affected by zoning bylaws that restrict rooming and boarding houses from operating in certain parts of a municipality, see In the Zone (pages 24-25).

Rental housing licensing is a relatively new and evolving concept – and so are ideas on what best practices might be. So, instead of citing “best practices,” this guide includes a series of “promising practices” – to convey that there are many opportunities for municipalities to enhance their work to advance human rights in rental housing.

[1] Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c.H.19, as amended.


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