New rooming house rules take aim at number of bedrooms

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New rooming house rules take aim at number of bedrooms

The city plans to limit the number of bedrooms in new residential buildings for the first time in an effort to prevent new unregulated rooming houses from cropping up.

City council put a temporary halt to new rooming houses in some particularly hard hit neighbourhoods in 2017 while staff came up with permanent rules that would prevent more from cropping up in the future.

Staff unveiled their proposed new rules on Monday and received unanimous support from a joint meeting of the city's planning committee and rural and agricultural affairs committee.

Staff took specific aim at unregulated rooming houses that pack many bedrooms into oversized units, effectively cramming people into homes not meant for that many occupants. 

More enforcement needed 

The first step of the new plan is to cap the number of bedrooms in a single dwelling at four bedrooms. If a developer wants more bedrooms, they can apply for "oversize dwelling" designation which allows for as many as eight bedrooms in a detached home.

The city also aims to clarify the difference between a dwelling where people operate as a household with a single lease, and a rooming house where each tenant has their own lease with the landlord.

Somerset ward Coun. Catherine McKenney said the bylaw is a good step but she still has reservations about how effective the new rules would be without more enforcement.

"People are living in dire, dire circumstances," said McKenney, whose ward has the most rooming houses.

Large families could be affected 

While councillors were happy to finally make progress on the rooming house issue, the new rules could make life complicated for very large families.

While the bylaw is aimed at limiting illegal builds, the standard will apply across the city.

For example, families who want to add a fifth or sixth bedroom to accommodate a growing number of kids or to let the in-laws move in to their suburban home would not be allowed.  

Coun. Allan Hubley originally asked that his Kanata South ward be exempted from the rules.

"I'm not doing this to families and telling them they can only have four kids," Hubley said.

Large families in a single home are becoming the new face of Ottawa, said planning committee chair Coun. Jan Harder, but the bylaw changes aren't aimed at them.

City staff said only three per cent of households in Ottawa have more than six people living in a single home. If families really need to add bedrooms to their house, they can try to convince the committee of adjustment, a quasi-judicial tribunal that approves small zoning changes.

Hubley said he was satisfied with that.

No more garbage piles 

Brent Webster said his Bel-Air neighbourhood near Algonquin College is particularly hard hit by rooming houses. He described front lawns that look like mud pits and properties that were not being kept up.

The new rules also aim to get rid of giant piles of garbage.

The new rule would require homes with three to six units to provide an indoor space to store garbage so bags don't pile up on the curb.

If approved, the changes would come into effect in July. City council will vote on the bylaw change next month.