Bylaw amendment puts the heat on landlord scofflaws.

By Tyler Craig

Winnipeg is famous for its long and cold winters. It is a reasonable expectation for those who live in rental housing that part of their rent should cover heating expenses and their landlords would provide sufficient heat. In a misguided effort to save on costs, there are some landlords in Winnipeg who refuse to provide adequate heat. Last year, there were 300 heat related complaints to the City of Winnipeg.  In January, CBC News reported about a caretaker couple who were terminated because they refused to comply with the landlord’s demand that the boiler in their apartment building be shut off.  These are two examples of why the heating bylaw must have tougher enforcement.

The City of Winnipeg has recognized the need for tougher enforcement and an amendment to the Neighbourhood Liveability Bylaw is under consideration. The current minimum temperature that landlords must maintain their units, is 21c between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. At night between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. landlords must heat their units to 18c. The amendment being proposed is that individual landlords be fined $1,000 or six months imprisonment for violating this by-law. Corporations would be fined $5,000.  The amendments would also make it easier for bylaw officers to issue fines without a lengthy legal process, similar to how traffic tickets are issued now.

The amendment to the Neighbourhood Liveability Bylaw is in committee stage and is to be considered at the next meeting of Winnipeg’s Standing Policy Committee on Protection and Community Services on Thursday October 3rd. The City should ensure these amendments have been finalized before winter. This will ensure that tenants can be confident they can enjoy adequate temperatures in their rental units. If their landlord is non-compliant, then tenants will have strong recourse by contacting an inspector with the power to issue fines. Increasing the fine amounts will add a strong deterrent for any landlord who believes they can save on costs by reducing the heat to their rental units. Winnipeg City Councillors should be commended for their commitment to ensuring that no renter should have to endure housing that is inadequately heated in winter.

Tyler Craig is a student housing researcher with Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba