Divisional Court Grants Appeal by Municipalities

On February 20, 2002, the Divisional Court granted an appeal by the municipalities of Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton, and overturned a September 1999 decision of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). The OMB had held that the city of Toronto did not have the legal right to adopt policies to protect and encourage existing rental housing.

The OMB held that the city of Toronto’s official plan amendment (OPA 2), a bylaw intended to limit the loss of rental units, was illegal and invalid. OPA 2 allowed the city to restrict developers planning to tear down or convert rental units into higher priced condominium units. The OMB arrived at its decision without hearing any oral evidence on the actual planning merits concerning the need to protect rental housing. The OMB’s ruling caused considerable concern, because it would have allowed landlords and developers to convert their rental properties to condominiums without restrictions, thereby depleting the already low rental stock. Since 2000, the OMB had approved the net loss of 431 rental units through demolition, and an additional 156 rental units were at risk of demolition through current redevelopment applications in the city of Toronto alone. At the appeal, the court agreed with the grounds advanced by the municipalities and found that the OMB exceeded its jurisdiction in deciding that OPA 2 was illegal and invalid.

The court’s decision will help quell the ongoing depletion of rental units in Ontario municipalities. The rental apartment vacancy rate in Toronto is currently 0.9 per cent and 0.2 per cent in Ottawa. A “healthy” balanced vacancy rate, as reported by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, is between 2 and 3 per cent.

The city of Toronto was represented by in-house counsel Andrew Weretelnyk and Roberto Zuech. James Canapini, of Lang Michener in Ottawa, acted as lead counsel for the intervenor, the city of Ottawa, assisted by Barbara Sinclair (municipal law). Tim Marc was in-house counsel for the city of Ottawa was Tim Marc. The city of Hamilton was represented at the appeal by in-house counsel Ronald Sabo.

Counsel for the OMB was Leslie McIntosh of the Ontario Attorney General’s office. Robert Doumani of Aird & Berlis LLP represented the main respondents in the appeal, along with Jim Andrew of Marler & Kyle Andrew van der Steen LLP, and Thomas Lederer and Chris Barnett of Davis & Company.

Some of the respondents have now filed a motion for leave to appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal.