February 19th, 2014
Toronto senior Marilyn Miller loves the midtown apartment she has called home for more than 20 years.
But after enduring three rent increases above the provincial guideline in 10 years to cover repairs to balconies, underground parking and elevators, she worries she may soon be forced to move.
“This last one has been a real killer,” she says of the latest increase which has pushed the rent on her two-bedroom Davisville Ave. apartment to $1,558 a month. “It’s getting hard for me to pay.”
Toronto Councillor Josh Matlow, whose midtown ward includes many apartments with seniors on fixed incomes like Miller, wants Queen’s Park to ban above-guideline increases for maintenance and repairs and force landlords to set aside 10 per cent of existing rents to cover those costs.
“Average rents have risen $80 per month for a one bedroom in just the last four years,” Matlow says in a motion to be debated by city council Thursday. “That’s almost $1,000 a year extra at a time when wages have stagnated.
“No Torontonian should be forced to choose between paying rent and buying groceries, but that’s the unfortunate choice too many of us are facing,” he says.
Landlords can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board for rent increases above the annual guideline (0.8 per cent this year and 2.5 per cent last year) to cover the cost of extraordinary increases in municipal taxes and utilities and for major capital work such as replacing balconies and elevators.
But Matlow argues the provision means tenants are paying landlords for the cost of doing businesses.
“If you are in the business of owning a large apartment building, then you should be banking on making major capital repairs,” he said in an interview.
Landlords already receive guideline increases and further rent hikes every time a unit becomes vacant and is no longer covered by rent control, he said.
“Repairs should be included as part of a landlord’s overall expenses and paid for from the significant rent they already receive,” he added.
But Daryl Chong, president of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association, says annual guideline rent increases often don’t even cover operating costs.
“A large majority of purpose-built apartment buildings were built in the 1970s and are now approaching 50 years old and are in need of major capital upgrades,” he said. “Above-guidelines increases for capital expenditures . . . is something (the law) allows and is needed.”
In his motion, Matlow calls on the province to amend the Residential Tenancies Act to require landlords to maintain the building and pay for maintenance as needed, “not be given incentive to let their buildings deteriorate and then place huge bills on the backs of tenants.”
A mandatory maintenance account, consisting of 10 per cent of rents, would give landlords the money they need to do major capital work and is similar to how condominiums address this need, he added.
Between 100 and 150 buildings — housing 20,000 to 30,000 tenants — are hit with above-guideline rent increases in Toronto every year, said Geordie Dent of the Metro Federation of Tenants Associations which helps tenants fight the hikes.
In the 100 buildings the federation helped last year, the average above-guideline increase requested was 5.7 per cent. The average awarded by the board was 4.5 per cent, Dent said.
Since the province caps above-guideline increases at 3-per-cent per year, landlords typically spread the rent hikes over several years.
In Miller’s case, the landlord was awarded a 6.4 per cent above-guideline increase last year, which means her rent went up by 4.7 per cent. Her rent will rise by another 3 per cent this year and go up by 2 per cent above whatever the guideline is for 2015.
Matlow’s motion needs the support of two-thirds of council to pass. If it gets a straight majority, it will be referred to the executive committee for deputations.
At the very least, Chong said he hopes landlords get a chance to voice their opposition at executive committee.
Matlow welcomes the debate.
“I think it’s an important conversation to have with the province,” he said. “At least 50 per cent of Toronto residents are tenants. Their concerns deserve to be heard.”
About 1.5 million Torontonians live in about 450,000 rental units. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Toronto area last October was $1,032, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing, up from $1,007 in 2012.
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