Meet the new slumlord, same as the old slumlord – The City of London

Lee Friday – April 18, 2017

The City of London tripled its license fee for residential rental units, from $55 to $165, effective January 1, 2017. According to a London Free Press article, the higher fee is the City’s response to false information provided by a few applicants, and Orest Katolyk, the by-law boss, said “This will pay for a staff member to proactively inspect initial applications.”

Well that’s the pot calling the kettle black!

There is a major disconnect between the actions of City Hall and the stated purpose of by-law CP-19 which governs the licensing of residential rental units (not including apartment buildings and townhouses).

The by-law clearly states that the requirement for licensing is “for the purpose of protecting the health and safety of the persons residing in residential rental premises by ensuring that the certain regulations are met.”

Which regulations? Well, for example, the by-law requires applicants to complete a Residential Rental Unit Self-Certification Checklist, which “is designed to assist property owners in determining whether their properties comply with the City of London Property Standards By-Law.”

The by-law also states in clause 6.2(k) that “the Licensee shall ensure that a legible copy of the license issued under this By-law is posted and maintained in a prominent and visible position inside the Rental Unit near the front entrance.”

CITY  HALL  DOES  NOT  OBEY  ITS  OWN  BY-LAW

According to city records, as of May, 2016, the City of London owned and managed thirteen residential rental properties. The City also managed five residential rental properties as agent for the owner, the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA). All properties were acquired over the years for various purposes which are irrelevant to this article, though this may be a good topic for a future article.

In January of this year, I visited seven of these eighteen properties. None of them had a license posted inside the house near the front entrance as per the by-law requirement. In one home, the tenant said there was a license, but seemed reluctant to allow me to see it. In three homes, the tenants said a license was not posted anywhere in the house. In the other three homes, the tenants said there was a license posted elsewhere in the house, one in the kitchen, and two near the back entrance. I was allowed to see each license. All three had expired.

Strike One – The City of London appears to disobey the license posting requirement of its own by-law.

What about those mandatory checklists? Completing a checklist is a time-consuming task, as it requires inspection of numerous items, such as lighting, fences, gates, foundation, driveway, roof, gutters and downspouts, guards and handrails, paint, doors, windows, plumbing, appliances, electrical outlets, electrical systems and breakers, fireplaces, bedroom sizes, ceiling heights, and many other issues.

How many inspections can one person honestly and efficiently complete in one day? Two houses, maybe three? I obtained copies of sixteen checklists, covering sixteen properties managed by the City of London, and owned either by the City or the UTRCA in May, 2010. All sixteen checklists are dated May 31, 2010, and all are signed by the same City of London property agent, Ron Gasparetto. This is compelling evidence of falsification of checklists.

Strike Two – The City of London appears to disobey the checklist requirement of its own by-law

WAYNE  LOUCKS – A  VICTIM  OF  CITY  HALL

From 1976 to 2014, Wayne Loucks was the tenant at 73 Evergreen Avenue, a house managed by the City, as agent for UTRCA. This property is one of the sixteen for which checklists were dated May 31, 2010. According to Loucks, there has never been a license posted inside the house.

In November, 2011, Loucks twice notified his landlord that the roof was in need of repair because it was leaking water, but the landlord took no action. Over the next several months, Loucks made a number of subsequent attempts to contact Ron Gasparetto about the roof, but a successful resolution was not forthcoming. The leak caused mould to accumulate on the ceiling, and damaged a carpet which required replacement. Loucks attempted to control the leak by paying for installation of a tarp. Finally, on October 7, 2013, a weary and frustrated Loucks applied to the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board (Board), and a hearing was held on October 21, 2013. At the hearing, all parties agreed to these facts, and the Board ordered the landlord to repair the roof and compensate Loucks for expenses incurred. The roof was repaired in November, 2013.

Kevin Lundy of the Board wrote: “I find that in failing to attend to the above maintenance issues in a timely manner, the Landlord was in serious breach of its responsibility for providing and maintaining a residential complex, including the rental units in it, in a good state of repair and fit for habitation and for complying with health, safety, housing and maintenance standards under subsection 20(1) of the Act [Residential Tenancies Act, 2006].”

Strike Three – The UTRCA and its agent, The City of London, disobeyed the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act

Ah, but this is not baseball dear reader. In the world of government, you are allowed to keep swinging no matter how many strikes you have against you. The City of London stays in the game. Keep reading.

UTRCA  HYPOCRISY

Loucks arranged for a mould inspection by the Middlesex London Health Unit on November 1, 2013. The inspection confirmed the existence of mould, including the dreaded black mould, in several locations inside the house. Loucks had been living in this unhealthy environment for an extended period of time, and would continue to do so until he was forced to move in November, 2014.

The landlord (UTRCA) failed to remedy the mould problem, which contradicts their mission statement. Their website tells us: The UTRCA’s mission statement is “Inspiring a healthy environment.” The UTRCA is a government entity, with a significant portion of its budget funded by municipal taxes.

Strike Four – The UTRCA, and its agent and benefactor, the City of London, behaved in a manner directly opposed to the UTRCA’s own mission statement

LOUCKS  MAKES  A  SECOND  APPLICATION  TO  THE  BOARD

By April, 2014, Loucks was becoming increasingly concerned about the condition of the property. According to Loucks, there had been no discussion about an effective mould remedy, the repaired roof was leaking again, roofing debris was left on the property, and there were large deep holes in the yard caused by heavy equipment used to remove a tree (arranged by the landlord). These issues caused Loucks to question the City’s plans for repair of various interior ceilings. Therefore, on April 17, 2014, Loucks submitted another application to the Board, and a hearing was scheduled for May 27, 2014.

LOUCKS  RECEIVES  AN  EVICTION  NOTICE

On May 20, 2014, London City Council voted unanimously to evict Loucks and demolish the house, a process to be undertaken in cooperation with the UTRCA. One week later, the Board hearing proceeded as scheduled, but according to Loucks, it appeared to be nothing more than a rubber stamp for eviction. Council’s vote was based on a report from Martin Hayward, Managing Director of Corporate Services and City Treasurer, Chief Financial Officer (since promoted to City Manager). The report appears to contain some inaccurate, curious, and deceptive information, as follows:

(1) Hayward wrote “The current tenancy spans close to 30 years.” However, Loucks was a tenant in the house for 38 years. This is not a material error, but it shows lack of attention to detail. Was this a rushed report, attempting to pre-empt the looming board hearing?

(2) Hayward wrote “The front portion of the house is currently being utilized as a work shop which may not conform to City of London zoning bylaws as an accepted use.” May not conform? Are decisions being made based on uncertain information? Did the UTRCA obtain a license for this residential rental unit? Presumably, license acquisition was the purpose of all those checklists. If the license was not obtained, then they broke the law. If the license was obtained, and renewed as required, then the manner in which the house was utilized did in fact comply with zoning by-laws. It is clearly stated on the application form that zoning approval is a prerequisite for issuance of a license. Also, the checklist itself clearly specifies that “property owners”, not tenants, “are responsible for ensuring that all their units are in compliance with applicable City of London By-Laws (such as the Zoning By-Law) . . .” Moreover, according to Loucks, the City has been aware of the workshop for many years. Was Hayward attempting to deceive City Council?

(3) With regard to outstanding repairs, Hayward wrote that Loucks “has been uncooperative in allowing for a mutually acceptable plan for the associated works to be carried out.” You have read Loucks’ version of events, which he documented and included in his application to the board, though Hayward did not include this in his report. City Council hears only one side of the story.

(4) Hayward wrote: “The property has also been subject to an inspection by the Middlesex London Health Unit in regards to mould.” While Hayward made a point of blaming Loucks for delayed house repairs, his report fails to mention that the UTRCA and the City of London are entirely responsible for the mould problem, as documented in the board report of October 28, 2013.

(5) Beyond the outstanding repairs, Hayward wrote: “There are however additional items that would need to be addressed to move the property into a state that would allow it to have any material future economic life.” However, Hayward did not provide any detail of these ‘additional items.’ I put the question to Loucks, who has been the tenant for 38 years and a tradesman for 40 years. According to Loucks, there was only one significant issue requiring attention – a double brick exterior wall was in need of repair because of water damage from the roof leak which the UTRCA and City of London failed to address in a timely manner. Loucks estimated the cost of repair to be no more than $15,000.

SLUMLORDS – THE  CITY  OF  LONDON  and  THE  UTRCA

The self-certification checklist clearly specifies that the signatory certifies that a copy of the checklist was given to the tenant. Loucks says he never received a checklist until he began to investigate the law, became aware of the checklist requirement, and through a Municipal Freedom of Information request, obtained a copy.

The checklist was signed on May 31, 2010, and it showed two items checked off as ‘non-applicable’, with all other items checked off as ‘in compliance.’ Loucks reviewed the list and disagreed with eleven of the items checked off as ‘in compliance’, the most significant of which was the roof. Had the roof been repaired at this time (2010), I would not be writing this story, and in the opinion of myself and Loucks, he would still be living at 73 Evergreen Avenue, which he considered ‘home.’

The City of London website states, in part, that the purpose of the Residential Rental Units Licensing By-law is “To address sub-standard housing conditions in rental units.” The UTRCA and the City of London, through their (apparently willful) inaction, created sub-standard housing conditions at 73 Evergreen Avenue.

This is not a new role for our London Municipal Government. The London Free Press ran a story on July 19, 1997, titled “When City Hall Turns Into A Slumlord, What Could Have Been A Dream Home With A Little Renovation Turned Into A Dump After Years Of Neglect By The Owner – The City.” A woman by the name of Judy Thode was City Hall’s victim in that story. Alas, we hear only the stories that get published. How many more victims have there been?

LOUCKS  REQUESTS  A  POLICE  INVESTIGATION

Loucks submitted a Freedom of Information request to obtain copies of checklists for all rental properties owned by the UTRCA (but not those owned by the City of London). Thus, he received copies of eight checklists, including his own residence, all signed by Ron Gasparetto on May 31, 2010.

Loucks knew his own checklist was inaccurate and believed it was impossible to complete eight house inspections in one day. Therefore, at the board meeting of October 21, 2013, Loucks attempted to discuss the issue, asserting that the checklists appeared to be fraudulently completed. However, the board indicated it lacked jurisdiction to address this matter.

On October 29, 2013, Loucks contacted the police about a fraud investigation. Charges were not laid and Loucks subsequently obtained a copy of the police report through a Freedom of Information request. The report says the by-law does NOT “specifically mention these checklists.” The report goes on to say there were insufficient grounds for by-law related charges because the by-law requirements were very vague. Really? Let’s have a look.

Section 5.2 of the by-law reads, in part, “Every person applying for a licence or a renewal of a licence shall provide in full at the time the application is submitted all of the information requested on the application form.” Now we look at the application form, which clearly specifies that a new application must include “A completed Self-Certification Checklist.”

This is not vague! It is extremely precise! The requirement for a checklist is clear. The fact that we have many overpaid police investigators is also clear. It took the police six weeks to decide there were insufficient grounds for by-law related charges. It took me less than an hour of on-line research to prove them wrong.

We should not be surprised the police failed to lay charges. Equality under the law is a myth. When the government investigates the government, it is naive to expect impartiality. As Professor Bruce Benson wrote in his book The Enterprise of Law:

. . . police can choose which laws to enforce strictly and which not to enforce at all. In fact, this discretion is an important ingredient for meeting the demands of powerful special interests; police can not only choose which laws to enforce, but which laws to enforce for whom. A person’s chances of police protection correspond closely to his position in the “geography of political power.”[1]

The stench of police inaction mirrors the difficulty experienced by Loucks as he attempted to obtain legal representation throughout his ordeal. He says he contacted four paralegals, three of which said the City does not fight fair, so they declined to take his case; the fourth quoted an astronomical fee, thereby forcing Loucks to decline.

LOUCKS  REQUESTS  HELP  FROM  CITY  COUNCIL

With a little work, Loucks’ ‘home’ was economically viable, and on October 28, 2014, he delivered a letter to all City Councillors, pleading his case, yet he did not receive a single reply.

All three levels of government constantly pontificate about the need for more affordable housing, the lack of which is a direct result of various regulations, restrictions, codes, conditions, and edicts imposed on the market by the government itself. The hypocritical decision by London City Council to demolish the house at 73 Evergreen Avenue effectively reduced the supply of affordable housing! Politicians cannot create wealth but they often destroy it, as they did with this house.

The lack of response to Loucks’ letter reveals Council’s lack of desire to assist the downtrodden. While governments always tell us they seek to help the oppressed, we see that the oppressor is often the government itself!

GOVERNMENT  LICENSING  LAWS  ARE  A  SHAM

Politicians, bureaucrats, and their coterie of so-called experts at every level of government, frequently and nauseatingly tell us they are eminently qualified to establish the conditions which one must meet in order to be judged competent to legally operate designated businesses, or engage in specified occupations. Well, the government may be omnipotent, for now, but it is not omniscient, and never was.

Why would we trust the government to certify (licensing) competence in a particular field when it has proven itself incompetent to operate in that very same field? Governments, through their licensing laws, cannot certify competence – they can only restrict the options available to consumers and producers alike.

Government imposed licensing is a cash grab, which always restricts entry into a field, thereby lowering supply and increasing prices. In our particular case, we will have fewer residential rental properties, and higher prices. And the prices go a little higher because landlords pass the license fee on to tenants, a fact the City is well aware of (see the LFP article referenced at the beginning of this article).

Governments always justify their lawmaking activities by assuring us they are motivated only by the highest of ideals, such as national security, the public interest, consumer safety, and other such nebulous concepts. In our case, recall the words on the City’s website, “To address sub-standard housing conditions in rental units.” Lofty sounding words, but mere rhetoric. Just ask Wayne Loucks.

CONCLUSION

It seems clear that London City Hall broke its own Residential Rental Units Licensing By-law – failure to post rental licenses as required, and fraudulent completion of checklists. City Hall and the UTRCA also disobeyed the requirements of the Ontario Residential Tenancies Act.

City Hall’s failure to follow the law was not a simple oversight. In particular, the Tenancies Act was violated on a continuing basis over a span of two and a half years. This happened despite repeated notifications from Loucks. Thus, it appears these violations were intentional.

The UTRCA receives a significant portion of its revenue from taxpayers. Recall the 2013 Board ruling, where the UTRCA was ordered to repair the roof and compensate Loucks for expenses. These costs were paid by taxpayers, not by those who broke the law i.e. not by any of the bureaucrats working for the UTRCA or its agent, the City of London. The provincial board ruling, despite its harsh language, was no more than a slap on the wrist for municipal bureaucrats who are not held personally liable for their actions. Accountability within government is a myth. Taxpayers are held accountable for the actions of politicians and bureaucrats.

When a group of people are relieved of responsibility for their actions, irresponsible behaviour is the result. Perverse incentives arise. The story of Wayne Loucks is not unique. There are countless individuals in the country (and the world) who are victimized by the actions of all three levels of government, but these stories are rarely publicized.

I am completely opposed to the by-law at the heart of this story. However, my point is this: the law exists, and the fact that ‘authorities’ can break the law with impunity is symptomatic of the coercive system within which they operate. The ‘authorities’ arbitrarily make laws, then arbitrarily decide when these laws will be enforced, and when they will not be enforced; and who these laws will be enforced against, and who gets a free pass.

The government coercively taxes the people, and claims a monopoly over lawmaking and law enforcement. Citizens do not make the laws. Citizens vote for politicians. Politicians enact laws, despite the fact that many citizens disapprove of many of these laws. We are taught that elected politicians are representatives of the people, so that when the government makes laws, it is really the people who are making the laws. Nonsense. Citizens have no influence over the process of lawmaking and law enforcement. We will continue to live with the current system until citizens withdraw their consent to the system.

There is a world of difference between laws made directly by the people versus laws made by government. When people make laws directly, they only make laws they are prepared to enforce with their own resources (not taxes) when the occasion arises. Such societies tend to enjoy high levels of peace and prosperity. Sound like a nutty concept? Not at all. It is historical fact, though you won’t read about it in public school textbooks. It is beyond the scope of this article to explore this issue in greater detail, though I have written a series of essays on the subject, which you can find here.


None of the following six bureaucrats responded to a request (March 29, 2017) for comment on this story:

Martin Hayward, City Manager, City of London

George Kotsifas, Managing Director, Development and Compliance Services and Chief Building Official, City of London

Orest Katolyk, Chief Municipal Law Enforcement Officer, City of London

Bill Mackie, Lands & Facilities Supervisor, UTRCA

Ron Gasparetto (now with the City of Brantford)

John Pare, Chief of Police, City of London

 

[1] Bruce L. Benson The Enterprise of Law (The Independent Institute, 2011) pp 132 – 33

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