Charging for visitor parking should be banned, says staff report

By Jamie Pashagumskum

The City of Ottawa has the power to stop property owners in Centretown and elsewhere in the capital from charging for visitor parking at apartment buildings, municipal officials have concluded.

A staff report presented to council on Dec. 12 recommended that council could draft a bylaw — modelled on one in Toronto — that would stop landlords from charging for these spaces.

After receiving several complaints from citizens, Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli brought the issue to council in October. In November, Egli’s request for a review of the issue was presented to the planning committee.

The question Egli wanted answered was whether council could implement a bylaw in Ottawa to halt the controversial practice.

Earlier in 2017, the Minto Group announced that some of its apartment buildings would start charging for visitor parking. The cost at the company’s properties was set at $1 an hour.

According to Minto, the fees were put in place to discourage tenants from using the visitor spots. Since some tenants are required to pay extra for a parking spot, a portion of apartment dwellers were known to be using visitor parking spots to avoid paying for their own.

Robin Garvey, vice-president of property operations for Minto Properties Inc., said the fees were intended to stop tenants from skirting the rules and occupying spaces meant for guests.

“To manage availability and high demand, we’ve implemented paid visitor parking to ensure that parking is truly available for visitors,” Garvey said in the statement. “There are exceptions and alternatives, for which residents are asked to contact their resident service centre.”

One of Egli’s concerns was how charging for visitor parking changed the prearranged agreement between landlord and tenants. The councillor said his focus for this issue is on the tenants of these buildings who are being denied free parking for friends or relatives.

Egli said it is unfair for residents to sign a lease agreement under the assumption that certain amenities would be included – like free visitor parking spaces – only to have those privileges revoked.

“All of a sudden it doesn’t really come with visitor parking because now there is an additional cost to whoever comes to visit me,” Egli said.

The main concerns the councillor expressed were for residents on low or fixed incomes. He said he’s worried that the new charge would affect elderly and other people who may require health care or homecare services.

The worry is that service providers would have to pay for parking when visiting clients and this extra cost would be passed on to the tenant receiving the service.

People on fixed incomes, noted Egli, budget a certain amount for those services and parking fees could pose a financial hardship.

“You’ve entered into an arrangement, you understand what your monthly costs are going to be and then your monthly costs are going up,” Egli said. “Anytime your costs go up I think you should be concerned how and why that’s happening.”

Ottawa does have the ability to implement a policy preventing landlords from charging for visitor parking spots, but for the time being the city won’t act on the issue. That’s because the Toronto policy is being appealed by landlords through the Ontario Municipal Board.

“We were supposed to wait and see the outcome (of the Toronto appeals), but some of that may take years to get through the system,” College Coun. Rick Chiarelli said. “I don’t see the point of waiting.”

While council has decided to wait for the Toronto verdicts before choosing whether to pursue a ban on paid visitor parking, Chiarelli said he has his mind made up.

He pointed out that Ottawa has zoning that allows for someone to run a paid parking lot, but that zoning doesn’t exist for the apartment buildings in question.

“We have a right to enforce that,” Chiarelli said. “If you wanted to (implement) pay for parking you should have sought variance to your zoning that lets you have a parking lot for pay.”

For now, Egli said, the city will wait for the verdict on the challenge of the bylaw in Toronto before deciding to proceed with a similar bylaw of its own.

“When we have a definitive answer from the court, then we’ll have a better sense how to proceed on it,” Egli said. “I certainly would like to see some protection put in for residents if that’s a legally accepted way for the city to do it.”