Presentation to the Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy – May 11, 2023
Bill 97- Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, 2023
About the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods
The Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods is a province-wide volunteer-based umbrella organization of community and neighbourhood associations. We promote awareness of urban issues, undertake projects which will enhance quality of life for residents of urban settings, maintain a resource base for information, share expertise, represent the common interests of member organizations before public and private bodies, as well as encouraging citizens to actively participate in, and become informed about community and civic affairs.
As such we maintain a close interest in the changes to provincial planning and landlord and tenant legislation.
Context for Bill 97
The legislative changes relating to land use planning passed by the current government under Bills 3, 23, 108, and 109, among others, have resulted in:
- a massive overhaul of the land use planning process and heritage and environmental protection,
- a new set of directives focussed on supply, rather than demand for homes,
- reduced the role of duly elected municipal councils, and
- eliminated appeals by residents who devote their time and energy to contribute to their communities’ development.
We now have Bill 97, another omnibus bill dealing with land use planning and landlord and tenant matters.
The tenant protection measures in Bill 97 are a mixed bag – some welcome, some concerning.
The land use planning measures are welcome if you are a land developer, but otherwise very concerning to Ontario residents.
Bill 23 provided the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (“Minister”) with authority to make regulations imposing limits and conditions on the powers of local municipalities regarding the demolition and conversion of residential rental properties. Bill 97 would provide details on what may be subject to these regulations.
In the absence of provincial guidance on the contemplated content of these regulations, it impossible to predict their potential impacts on tenants and landlords.
Bill 97 also contains some tenant protection enhancements, such as protections from “renovictions”.
However, it is important to bear in mind that many of these protections depend on access to the Landlord and Tenant Board. They will accordingly be of little practical use if tenants and landlords cannot have timely access to the Board, due to the intolerable backlog of cases, which was recently highlighted by the Ontario Ombudsman. Hiring additional adjudicators and updating Board processes and facilities will take a considerable period of time to have an effect on the huge current backlog.
The increased fines proposed in Bill 97 are welcome but may be less helpful than they appear – they are subject to enforcement at the first level (charges being laid), and to the court discretion at the second level.
Land Use Planning Changes
(i) Move Fast and Break Things
The theme of “move fast and break things” may be appropriate for tech start ups, but is entirely inappropriate for public policy in the land planning sphere.
The “make it up as you go” nature of recent land use planning legislation is illustrated by the walk backs in Bill 97 to recently enacted legislation. These include:
- Bill 97 defers to July 1, 2023 the effective date set out in Bill 109 for the start of refunds of development application fees.
- Bill 97 clarifies the restrictions set out in Bill 109 on the ability to require more than one parking space where additional residential units are permitted as of right.
- Bill 97 qualifies the limitation set out in Bill 23 on the authority to impose site plan control to residential buildings with 10 or less units.
As the Toronto Star has noted, coming on the heels of sweeping changes to the land use planning system introduced last fall, Bill 97 threatens to be more disruptive than helpful for municipalities.
(ii) Employment Lands
Bill 97 would provide a new definition of “areas of employment” that explicitly removes “institutional uses” and “commercial uses” from the definition, provided such uses are not otherwise related to manufacturing uses, uses related to research and development in connection with manufacturing, and warehousing uses (including uses related to the movement of goods).
This change will have the effect of permitting appeals of zoning by-law amendment applications that propose to remove lands from areas zoned to permit institutional and office uses. It would appear that this change will threaten the protection of employment lands and will result in increased conversion to residential uses.
(iii) New arbitrary powers of the Minister
Bill 97 would provide the Minister with new authority to issue Minister’s Zoning Orders which may provide that policy statements, provincial plans and official plans do not apply in respect of a licence, permit, approval, permission, or other matter required before a use permitted by the order may be established.
This authority is unlimited in its scope and could be used to undermine any principle of environmental protection or good planning practice contained in the Provincial Policy Statement or a municipality’s official plan.
The enhanced tenant protections of Bill 97 are welcome (subject to fixing the broken system at the Landlord and Tenant Board).
However, much of Bill 97 continues the unfortunate trend of recent legislation to override local decision-making in the land use planning area, and increases discretionary powers of the Minister to override both local and provincial planning policies.
It is also disappointing that the legislation does little to encourage housing affordability, or to discourage sprawl development and protection of heritage, environment, and agricultural resources.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the Standing Committee regarding Bill 97.
Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods (Ontario)
Geoff Kettel, Director
Jeffrey Levitt, Director