Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Toronto considers apartment licensing to crack down on bad landlords

City council set to explore a “Rent Safe” landlord licensing system to improve tenant quality of life.

April 9

Laurie Monsebraaten

The Toronto Star

Phuc Dinh and Hoa Le, once refugees from Vietnam, say they've had to buy four space heaters to deal with the constant cold in their apartment on West Lodge Ave. in Parkdale.

Phuc Dinh and Hoa Le, once refugees from Vietnam, say they’ve had to buy four space heaters to deal with the constant cold in their apartment on West Lodge Ave. in Parkdale. Photo: GEOFFREY VENDEVILLE / TORONTO STAR.

Toronto is contemplating a licensing system for apartment buildings — similar to the city’s Dine Safe restaurant program — to give inspectors more teeth when landlords fail to meet minimum property standards.

The proposed Rent Safe program would apply to about 3,300 rental buildings with 10 units or more that are three storeys or higher, according to a city staff report. Condos and co-ops would be excluded.

If approved by council next fall, it could be in place as early as January 2017.

Aspects of the proposal, including the possibility of prohibiting landlords with outstanding work orders from applying for rent increases or leasing vacant units, are on the city’s licensing and standards committee agenda next Thursday. The proposed “Rent Safe” name is also up for discussion.

The broader background report, presented to the city’s tenant issues subcommittee in February, suggests the program could be funded through a licensing fee of $12 to $15 per unit annually. Although city-owned Toronto Community Housing buildings would not be subject to the fee, they would still need to comply with licensing requirements, according to the report.

“The key objective is to gain compliance, not to seek monetary penalties,” says the report. But landlords who don’t comply could face fines of up to $100,000.

The licensing system would allow the city to enhance current property standards bylaws by requiring landlords to provide maintenance, cleaning and waste management plans, procedures to notify tenants of service disruptions and outstanding city orders and other measures to improve living conditions.

In February, the tenant issues subcommittee asked staff to report on provincial regulatory changes required under the Residential Tenancies Act to prevent landlords with outstanding work orders from raising rents and taking on new tenants.

“This is something tenants and tenant advocates have been proposing for some time and I’m thrilled we are bringing this forward,” said chair Councillor Josh Matlow, who urged Mayor John Tory to set up the advisory committee after the last election.

“If we are willing to have licensing or quasi-licensing systems across the city for health and safety in restaurants, why on earth wouldn’t we do it for people’s homes, where they live?” he asked.

But Daryl Chong of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association called the proposal “just another tax grab.” He said it would stigmatize tenants if Rent Safe adopted the prominently displayed colour-coded signs used by Dine Safe and were living in a building with a red “fail” card in the lobby.

“The vast majority of apartment buildings out there are well operated,” he said in an interview. “If the city has some issues with a small group of operators that aren’t doing what they should, we support them and are here to help. But a widespread licensing regime with all these other punitive things attached to it is the wrong way to go.”

Since 2008, more than 1,000 apartment towers have been audited as part of the city’s existing apartment audit and enforcement program. More than 58,000 deficiencies were found and over 4,500 work orders were issued.

A recent city audit of 103 and 105 West Lodge Ave. in the city’s Parkdale area, revealed more than 100 deficiencies in common areas including graffiti and feces on the walls, cracked ceilings and floor tiles and smelly garbage.

“If (Rent Safe) is approved, it could be the biggest change to tenant rights in Toronto in years,” said Geordie Dent, head of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations.

If licensing provides more funds for enforcement and encourages more landlords to comply with property standards bylaws in the first place, it will be ground-breaking, he said.

“When you are in the business of tenant rights, you are in the business of trying to minimize people’s suffering and increase their dignity. And we hope this proposal will do that,” he said. “The devil will obviously be in the details.”

The city’s detailed recommendations for Rent Safe will be presented to the licensing and standards committee in May.

This article, along with the full report, can be found in its original form at:

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