Ottawa slaps moratorium on monster houses

Neighbours worry about 16 students next door

A single-family dwelling in Ottawa is in the process of being converted to a three-storey monster house for 16 people. The home on Aylmer Ave., near Carleton University, will likely house students.

That project will go ahead, but in a surprise move on April 30, the city approved a temporary bylaw banning new applications for such conversions in the areas around Carleton and the University of Ottawa. The law could last up to a year, giving the city time to decide on new standards.

The sudden moratorium on new monster houses shows the tension between neighbours in single-family homes and the growing number of Ottawa post-secondary students looking for housing in their peaceful neighbourhoods.

Russ and Barbara Williams live next door to the new building on Aylmer and share a driveway with the home. They have lived in their house for 33 years and have never seen more than five or six people occupy the nearly knocked-down residence. Having as many as 16 people next door will be hard to manage, they say. The new building is just three metres away from their house. Barbara works as a nurse and is often on-call or going to work at 5:30 a.m. She worries that sharing a driveway with 16 others will mean a hassle every time she needs her car. Because garbage pickup is twice per month, trash piling up could also be an issue.

Kristen Campbell, a recent graduate from Carleton University, has shared a townhouse with five other students. “Depending on my own situation and what I needed at the time, I may have considered it,” she says of living in such a huge house. While she says sharing space with so many people is not an ideal situation, she could see why some students would opt to move in.

Bree Rody-Mantha, a recent university graduate, says she lived with six other people in a space meant for four and, after that experience, would not consider renting a bedroom in a converted home this size unless it was guaranteed to be clean and have bathroom access. “The fact is, the more people there are in [a small] space, the more mess there will be, the angrier people will be.”

Barbara Williams, the Aylmer resident, stresses that the issue with the house is not who its occupants may be, but the high number of bodies in such a small space. There were as many as six students sharing that space in the past and there were no issues, but 16 may be another story.

“It could turn out just fine, too,” she adds, but she still hopes the new bylaw will give the city a chance to seek public opinion and address issues like garbage, noise and parking space.

Jane Lytvynenko studies at the University of Ottawa and reports for the Canadian University Press.