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Victory for Tenants of Toronto

Landlord Licensing Passes City Council

by Natalie Hundt

Photo: Natalie Hundt
Photo: Natalie Hundt

On Dec. 14th the city of Toronto voted for Landlord Licensing after a long battle between tenants and slumlords.

For twelve years, the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN) has been knocking on doors in low to moderate income neighbourhoods asking residents what issues they faced in their community. One problem quickly revealed itself to be an epidemic across the metropolitan. Toronto has a slumlord crisis. Tenants are paying high market rent to live in increasingly worsening conditions. In multi-residential buildings across the city, tenants face ongoing substandard housing issues. Common issues include: bursting old pipes, leading to repeated flooding, rising floors, caving ceilings and other water damage as well as mold which is a health hazard.

Another health hazard too many Toronto renters face is chronic infestations of cockroaches, vermin and bedbugs. Many buildings also have continuous elevator issues resulting in frustratingly unreasonable long wait times. Uneven heating is also an issue during THW colder months.

Provincial law protects renters from unlimited rent increases, which restrict landlords to a limit increase of 2% per year for multi-residential buildings built prior to 1990. Bad Landlords have chosen demolition by demise as a course to put minimal funds into upkeep, while collecting full market rent until they can justifiably tear down the building and replace it with a new one and charge skyrocketing rent. Toronto and Canada already have a housing crises recognized by the United Nations. Toronto renters are spending up to 70% of their income on rent.

ACORN, currently boasting 83,000 members Canada-wide, has been calling for Landlord Licensing since 2008. Landlord Licensing is a cost recovery program that charges the landlord approximately $12 per unit to cover the expansion of a city run Multi Residential Apartment Building Inspection Program (MRAB). MRAB was until now a reactive inspection program which responds to complaints made by a tenant to the city either by a direct call to the city councilor or a call to 311. Unfortunately few renters are aware of this option and were left without knowledge of where to seek help. In addition, others are afraid of repercussions.

Landlord Licensing will expand the MRAB program. In a last minute amendment from Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, Ward 38, 6 more inspectors were added to the proposed addition to tackle the large task of annual proactive inspections of every building with a minimum of 3 stories and no less than 10 units. The inspection program will be similar to the Dine Safe program, where buildings would have to maintain set standards and if caught in violation of these standards would have to pay a fine if the issue is not brought up to standard in the set time. Landlord Licensing will implement a grading system that will be displayed at the front of each building so prospective renters can see the building's grade before signing the lease. This is a win/win for landlords and tenants as good landlords can boast a good grade, bringing more prospective renters and reducing vacancies. Until now there was only a self-certification that buildings awarded themselves and is entirely meaningless, a mere advertising stunt. Certification must come from the city so that tenants can trust it has value.

Many landlords have fought Landlord Licensing, claiming that there is no need and there are only a few bad apples. Extensive, documented research done by ACORN and confirmed by MRAB reveal that the reality is an epidemic of substandard market housing that urgently needs to be rectified. Landlords have distributed fliers using fear tactics to get tenants to act against thier own interests, leading tenants to believe Landlord Licensing would cost them money, calling it an apartment tax despite knowing that provincial laws limit rent increases at 2% a year. Josh Matlow, City Councillor, Ward 22, has repeatedly stated that the claim of an apartment tax is absolutely false. Matlow has been a leader in the fight to protect tenants.

One of the first city councillors to join ACORN’s fight for tenants inside city hall is Janet Davis, City Councillor, Ward 31, who has been a strong and diligent champion for almost a decade. Listening closely to the needs of the people Davis has helped lay the foundation and together overcome the years of hurdles that have brought ACORN’s Landlord Licensing to this victory.

Davis wanted to extend her appreciation as well,  saying, “I want to applaud tenant organizations across the city who have spoken out and are demanding the city take action."

In response to this victory Geordie Dent from the Federation of Metro Tenants' Association stated, "Landlord Licensing has been a project 10 years in the making. Tenant advocates have had to fight tooth and nail just to get a system that forces landlords to follow the law."

The FMTA has been a steadfast ally of ACORN in the quest to protect tenants. Dent said, "We've pushed tirelessly and we're happy that council has finally passed a system that increases resources for maintenance enforcement, increases penalties for bad landlords and benefits for good ones."

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