Lawyers have warned the city to consider “many more unique facts of the rooming house model” before determining that the ownership model violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The city is “at a loss” to make a case for how RMs discriminate against renters, the lawyers said.
While Canada’s largest city is scrutinizing a question of history, the discussions are being impacted by an increasingly complicated debate over the affordability of Toronto’s condo market and other city hall innovations.
In the past week, Toronto’s city council voted to keep rooming houses illegal under an interim ban until new city proposals can be drafted. In a rare split decision, most council members voted in favor of an extension of the existing ban, with some arguing that the city had no evidence that people in private rooms posed a problem in Toronto.
But others scoffed at the proposals. “We have just spent nine years arguing that private rooms are unlawful because of some court decision 20 years ago,” said Councillor Gord Perks. “And now we have a full blown lawyer’s s—storm.”
A Toronto representative for the American Bar Association told CNNMoney in an email that while the case before Canada’s Supreme Court is interesting, the ABA’s role is to advise its members how laws are applied in individual jurisdictions. It isn’t taking an official stance on the case, said Chris Wilk, a senior legal officer for the ABA.
“We advise our members and members of other jurisdictions on how to apply law,” Wilk said. “But we have not and will not say if a law is unconstitutional.”
Canadian organizations representing housing advocates, lawyers and non-profit groups have expressed concerns about the previous city council’s push to keep rooming houses out of Toronto, while some critics have warned against further burdensome regulation.
“It strikes me as the height of folly and nonsense to say that people should not move into informal sector accommodation, where they don’t take rent,” said Richard Gwyn, a Toronto author and public commentator.
The traditional model for housing — where most residents are rented out space in their homes — has a dire shortage of affordable units in Toronto, he argued. Adding to the problem is a hot market for condos. Gwyn said that adding more building regulation won’t help solve the market’s problems, because it will only drive up the cost of residences.
“The rent-market forces in the sector are completely uneven — no one knows how to push the landlord to meet the desire of people that want to be in the system and not be in the system,” he said.
Gwyn and others were surprised that the debate over rooming houses would cause such a stir. If anything, the issue became more heated as a new form of accommodation that’s coming into wide use, Airbnb, was added into the mix.
The ABA said on its website that the case’s outcome “could impact the ability of families in privately rented accommodation to access safe, affordable housing, and may lead to more segregated and lower quality housing options.”
Stratosphere: The story of John Tory’s anti-rooming house movement