CBC News: City council approves landlord inspection bylaw to tame 'Wild West' of a rental market

Posted December 15, 2016

Toronto landlords will soon be forced to post inspection results at the front of their buildings after city council approved a new bylaw governing apartment buildings Wednesday. 
It's something that tenants and anti-poverty advocates have fought for over the last decade, and some of them began clapping as the vote was counted at city hall. 
The rental market has been "like the Wild, Wild West" for tenants, ACORN spokeswoman Laurie Simpson said Wednesday night. The registration system — and the posted inspections — will give tenants more information when deciding where to live. 
"This goes a long way to giving tenants some rights," she said.
The project would be modelled on the DineSafe program launched in 2001, which saw restaurants post signs from Toronto Public Health indicating a pass, a conditional pass or a failing grade. 
Applying that same principle to landlords had been voted down by the municipal licensing and standards committee earlier this month.
But Coun. Josh Matlow decided to reintroduce the idea at council  — at the urging of ACORN and tenants who told him stories of urine-soaked hallways and bug-infested bathrooms.
DineSafe forced the restaurant industry to adapt, the Ward 22, St. Paul's councillor said Wednesday, and he argued it could do the same for the rental housing market.
"It provides transparency and accountability," Matlow said. "Literally, in the shop window, it tells prospective tenants what they're walking into before they sign on the dotted line."
Within a year of DineSafe's launch, the compliance rate jumped from 40 per cent to 78 per cent, public health records show. It now sits at 90 per cent compliance.
More enforcement
The new bylaw will also require the owners of Toronto's 3,500 rental buildings to register with the city — and file mandatory plans for pest control, waste management, cleaning and maintenance.
Half of the program's $5.1-million budget will be covered by a $10.60 annual fee property owners will have to pay on each of their units. Staff built in safeguards to keep landlords from downloading that cost onto their tenants, something that Coun. Steve Holyday said should be removed.
But only eight of his colleagues supported him when it came time to vote. 
That budget also includes the hiring of 12 new staff.
Although several councillors said they felt that "good landlords" are paying fees to monitor "the bad," Coun. Norm Kelly said he thought that responsible property owners could benefit from the inspections as well. 
The landlords would get a "stamp of approval" from the city if they pass inspection, which could help attract quality tenants, he said.
Citywide audit
Enforcement officers plan to conduct an audit of every single rental housing property in the city beginning in 2017. That "baseline" will give them an idea of the biggest offenders, who will then be subject to a more thorough inspection, staff said.
Staff said the bylaw also calls for amendments in the building code so the city can levy higher fines against repeat offenders.
But the deputy mayor said he doesn't think that the bylaw will actually change the average living conditions.
"We know where the bad buildings are," Denzil Minnan-Wong said.  "The only thing that's going to happen is we're going to create a paper administration and the winners will be councillors who can declare this in a newsletter — and the losers will be the ones who have to pay the fee, especially those in the good buildings."
Article by Laura Fraser for CBC News