What's a landlord registry, and can it protect tenants?

What's a landlord registry, and can it protect tenants?

· The Pulse

A registry of Edmonton landlords could be in the works after city council approved an updated affordable housing strategy on Feb. 21.

The documentation could lead to better living conditions for renters and protect affordable housing in Edmonton, according to Acorn, a tenants' rights group.

"What landlord registration would do is ensure that rules and regulations are enforced," Keegan Colwell of Acorn's Alberta chapter told Taproot. "It would be funded by the small fee that landlords would pay, and it would just allow for inspections and to make sure that the places people live in are kept up to standard."

Colwell said there was an Acorn member in Lacombe whose heat failed during the January cold snap. "They tried to contact the relevant provincial recourse that they had. (The province) got back a week later and by that time, the cold snap was over," Colwell said. If the property had been registered, it would have been maintained to better standards, and the tenant would have also had a better resource to address their heat issue, Colwell argued. "This (registry) would ensure that these things don't happen, that the issues are addressed before they have a chance to hurt someone."

The city's strategy does not say the registry would only track affordable rentals. But Colwell said the registry could help protect the existing supply of affordable housing "by making sure that these buildings are kept up to a standard, that they're maintained, and they don't deteriorate, fall into ruin, and have to be abandoned."

Last spring, Acorn members in Nova Scotia successfully lobbied for a landlord registry to be created in Halifax. Starting April 1, landlords in the Halifax region must register their properties and create a maintenance plan for each. Owners of rental properties that do not register can face fines of up to $10,000.

The registry will give the Halifax Regional Municipality a clear picture of the rental landscape and allow it to step in with resources when needed, the municipality said.

Though Edmonton's updated affordable housing strategy says the city will establish a landlord registry, the city is exploring a registry as one of several tools it could use to improve tenant experiences. For example, the city already offers free courses to teach renters their rights and obligations.

"We have not explored in detail what a potential landlord registry would look like," Hani Quan, manager of housing policy and partnerships at the City of Edmonton, told council in February. "I think there's a few steps first to consider … I think we need to figure out some of the risks associated with developing a registry."

Quan added in an emailed statement to Taproot that more information will be available once city administration has worked through "scoping all of the actions and identifying priority items and opportunities to advance the implementation plan." Quan said that more information is expected by late spring.

Photo: A tenant advocate says requiring landlords to register properties would protect renters and help maintain affordable housing. (Tim Querengesser)