A Winnipeg city councillor is concerned about the difficulty city officials have investigating suspected illegal rooming houses.

Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg) has been calling for a crackdown on unlicensed rooming houses in Fort Richmond, near the University of Manitoba.

She would like to see a new rental bylaw designed specifically for single-family homes located around universities.

Lukes has fielded dozens of complaints from area residents about suspected illegal rooming houses in the Fort Richmond area near the university.

"When you've got a real shortage of student housing, it's a lucrative business,” she said.

Under city bylaws, the difference between illegal rooming houses and a home shared by a group of people can be difficult to determine, and Lukes said that's where enforcement can become difficult for city officials.

"It's a grey area, right? You're going to say ‘produce the leases.' Well, no one's going to produce the individual leases,” Lukes said.

“A lot of times what happens in these properties is, it's cash. Students pay cash. It's a very lucrative business. Are these landlords declaring the revenue?"

Under city bylaws, a licensed rooming house is technically called a 'converted residential dwelling' and is subject to regular inspections. That’s where multiple tenants have individual lease agreements with a landlord and where each bedroom would be considered a separate suite under the building code.

It's different than a shared tenancy, which would be a house rented together by a group of people who sign one rental agreement with the landlord.

Janet Bier, director of fire prevention with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, said a home becomes an illegal rooming house if it's not licensed and has multiple tenants living in self-contained suites

"When it's converted without permits, there may not be the same safety features put into that home for multiple people to live in that home,” Bier said. “We often find there are not smoke alarms installed or there may be only one smoke alarm installed."

"There's a lot of dangers that are associated with an illegal rooming house."

At a community meeting Saturday, Lukes and area residents determined they would like to see the city explore creating a separate rental bylaw to deal with single family homes around the university.

It’s something Lukes said other cities have done successfully.

"Let's get a license, let's get a permit, let's get regular inspections and let's make it more regulated,” Lukes said.

“It makes landlords accountable. It makes it safer for kids."

The city said it will continue to rely on information from the public to provide tips about potential illegal rooming houses.

Last November, the city started a new process to handle complaints about suspected illegal rooming houses. Since then, 53 calls have come into 311.

The city was unable to provide information on how many of those suites turned out to be illegal.