By Mark Weisleder
How would you feel if the day after you moved into your new home on what you thought was a quiet street, you found out that a house three doors down had been converted into a student residence?
Ten students are living there and they have late night parties every weekend. This issue has caused battles all over Ontario, as local governments try to balance the rights of students to housing, investors and homeowners who see their property values fall as a result of these “rooming houses.”
A home located at 2 Bessey St. in St. Catharines was renovated into a six-bedroom student residence. A local homeowner complained to the building department and on September 1, 2009, an inspector visited the property. He found that it had been converted from a “dwelling unit” as defined under the Ontario Building Code, into a “rooming, lodging or boarding house.”
This conversion meant the owner needed more exits, smoke alarms and mechanical ventilation. These would not be required if it was occupied by a family.
On April 19, 2010, a St. Catharines judge decided that the home did not need any additional renovations and could be rented to students as is.
He looked at similar cases, and in particular, the case of Lisa and Andre Bentolila, who converted a single story home at 484 Sunnyside Ave. in Ottawa into a three-storey 14 bedroom, four bathroom student residence. In that case, heard in 2006, the court found the conversion was a boarding house, partly based on the fact that the owner had done substantial renovations. Each Ottawa tenant had a separate lease, there was no sharing of utilities, one student acted as a superintendent and the owner’s son lived on the third floor in a unit that was not accessible to the other students.
In the St. Catharines case, the lease was between the six students and the landlord. It was a single lease, rather than six separate ones, for a total rent of $2,160. Each student paid $360, but was also responsible for payment of the entire monthly rent. Utilities were split equally and each tenant had access to the entire property. The judge found that the house had not been substantially renovated. He decided that the owner did not have to make costly repairs.
But it is still not that simple. There have been other cases, where the definition of a “dwelling unit” has been interpreted differently. In the case of the Neighbourhoods of Windfields subdivision, in north Oshawa, complaints were made against the owners of over 20 homes on Secretariat Pl., Norland Circle, Minsky Pl. and Woodbine Pl. in 2008. The complaints alleged that each of these homes near UOIT/Durham College had been converted into a lodging house, which contravened zoning bylaws.
A judge found that the intent of the words “single housekeeping establishment” in the zoning bylaw meant a typical family or other similar basic social unit. But this was held not to include students who only shared sleeping quarters and facilities on a rental basis. The ruling meant the homes could not be used as strictly student housing.
In an R1 zone, it is permitted for an owner to rent units in their home to a maximum of two students. Problems occur when more than 2 students are involved, including major renovations of the home itself.
In Toronto, all rooming houses need to be licensed by the Municipal Standards department. In addition, be aware that any time you rent a unit in your home for the first time, you must inform your insurer. If you do not and a fire or other damage later occurs, you will probably not be covered.
These cases raise many issues for buyers and sellers:
1. Buyers should always research the area that they are considering moving into in advance to make sure that there are no surprises such as local rooming houses.
2. If you are buying a student rental property or rooming house, consult with a private planner in advance to make sure that the property does satisfy all local city zoning and fire code requirements and that if a license is required, it has been issued. You can find a planner in your area at
3. Any time you rent additional space in your home to a student, you need to inform your insurance company as this will increase your risk.
Mark Weisleder is a Toronto real estate lawyer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org