Rental licensing program raises questions

Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha addresses city council during an executive committee meeting on June 4.

Plans to create of a rental licensing program have hit rocky ground, but the councillor who kickstarted the process said he’s not giving up the fight.

During an executive council meeting on Tuesday, city councillors voted down a motion to refer a report on the matter back to city administrators.

According to the report, which was written by Prince Albert’s chief building officer, legal and logistical hurdles made “the implementation of a rental license bylaw an unnecessary challenge at this time.”

Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha, who originally asked for the report back in May, expressed disappointment with the final product. In a speech to council, Botha said he disagree with the decision to compare Prince Albert to smaller communities like Nipawin, instead of larger centres like Regina, Kingston, London, Ont. and Boulder, Colorado.

He also wanted further clarification on the city’s legal obligations if such a bylaw were enacted, and questioned suggestions that more staff would be required to implement it.

“Perhaps we should have requested a plan, and not a report,” Botha said during his address to city council.

However, there was little appetite on city council for another report.

Botha received little support and a lot of opposition for his motion, which would have sent the matter back to administration.

Mayor Greg Dionne took the strongest stance against the motion, questioning just how affective a rental-licensing program would be, while expressing confidence that the problem was already being tackled adequately.

“We have one of the best bylaw enforcement teams in the province,” he said. “I do believe that if you look at the number of houses that are demolished and (cases) moving forward, we are starting to make progress.”

Dionne added that most of the delay comes from provincial regulations, which require the city to give property owners a certain amount of time to fix any problems. As long as those regulations are in place, there’s little the city can do to speed up the process.

“Even on weeds or grass, we have to give you two weeks notice or 30 days notice,” Dionne said. “Look how much it’s going to grow in that time period. When it’s taken months to grow, it should be down in a week.”

However, Botha isn’t giving up on the idea just yet.

He said the high volume of calls is a sign that property conditions are not adequate, and that the city needs to hold landlords to a higher standard.

“I’ve been in rental properties which I would consider unfit for human habitation here in P.A., and it’s everywhere,” he said. “We want our city to look better. We want to raise our property prices and our property values, and we cannot do this with a bunch of absentee landlords and some slumlords who don’t really care much for the community.”

Botha added that there is a big void in the housing market due to the gap between the best and worst rental properties in the city. He believes implementing a rental-licensing program will help close that gap, while making bylaw enforcement more efficient.

“It will speed up the process,” he said. “It will give bylaw a lot more teeth in their initiatives, but also protect good landlords and good tenants. We can’t decline somebody accommodation, but we can make sure that the accommodation that is available is up to standard.”

@kerr_jas •