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‘It is disgusting,’ says councillor of city’s failure to regulate rooming houses

June 1, 2018
Bryann Aguilar

The lack of regulation of rooming houses in several neighbourhoods across the city where many students attend college or university is a result of years of political inaction caused by public opposition to the dwellings, a city councillor says.

Ward 14 Councillor Gordon Perks, a member of the Tenant Issues Committee, said he and several members of council have been trying unsuccessfully for more than a decade to make rooming houses in Scarborough and North York legal. Right now, they are illegal.

“Unfortunately, a majority of Toronto city councillors, including those from Scarborough, keep voting us down, and the human cost of that is unacceptable,” said Perks.

The councillor made his remarks in the wake of a fatal fire in an alleged rooming house near the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus. Emergency services were called Wednesday morning to 10 Haida Court, where 18-year-old Chinese international student Helen Guo was killed in the fire. Three other people were injured.

A Toronto Star investigation found that the landlord, who owns 10 Haida Court, told tenants at other properties he owned near the U of T Scarborough campus to gather their belongings and leave, hours after the fire.

According to the City of Toronto’s definition, a rooming house is defined as a dwelling where more than four people separately rent out bedrooms, and share some communal spaces such as a kitchen and washrooms. At least three of landlord’s properties visited by the Star appeared to fit the city’s definition of a rooming house.

Perks said many residents living in those areas oppose rooming houses. He said they believe they have the right to keep away low-income people and students from living in their neighbourhood.

“Some members of council bow to that public pressure, keeping rooming houses underground and illegal, and putting all the tenants at risk. It is disgusting,” said Perks.

Unless there is a big shake up in the council, he said he expects any attempt to regulate rooming houses to fail.

“I’m sick in my soul that my colleagues fail so fundamentally on this issue.”

Jim Hart, the councillor in the neighbourhood, said rooming houses are fundamentally necessary in areas near universities and colleges. He said it has been a challenge in his ward, where Scarborough campus of U of T is located, that there is no bylaw regulating rooming houses.

“A bylaw needs to be enacted to protect the people inside the home and to protect the integrity of the neighbourhood,” said Hart, who confirmed many residents in the community opposes rooming houses.

In the wake of the fatal house fire in Scarborough, Toronto fire service is cracking down on illegal rooming houses that are putting the lives of students at risk.

Mayor John Tory briefly told reporters on Friday that city needs to discuss the issue and decide the appropriate action to address the problem.

“Our foremost consideration must be the safety of all the people, who live in all those houses including students. And that is something that I’ll be continuing to address myself to with my colleagues”