CBC News: Landlord licensing needed to fix 'unacceptable' conditions for low-income renters, report says

Posted November 1, 2016

Cheryl Horne is paying more than $1,000 each month for cockroaches, broken cupboards, an unsealed door that lets cold air in and gaping holes in her walls and ceilings. And her rent is about to go up.
The single mother of five calls the conditions of her Scarborough apartment "ridiculous."
"It's hard. It's driving me mad," Horne said. "But there's nothing to do. I have to just live with it," she said in an interview with CBC News in her unit at 3967 Lawrence Ave. E., which is near Orton Park Road.
A new report released by ACORN, a national organization of low and moderate income families, says the plight of tenants like Horne highlights the need for the city to move forward on landlord licensing.
Their State of Repair survey was distributed to 174 ACORN members across the city to measure the extent of substandard living conditions in Toronto's rental apartments. Results reveal the majority of tenants have major deficiencies in their homes.
Andrew Marciniak, a lead organizer at ACORN Toronto, spoke on CBC's Metro Morning about the severity of the situation.  
"People are living in squalor and paying high rent," he said. 
Of the members surveyed, 95 per cent reported violations of Toronto's property standard bylaws in their apartments and nearly 70 percent said repairs were needed in their unit the day they moved in.
Marciniak said that cockroaches rank among the most common complaints. 
"83 per cent of people say they have seen cockroaches in their home, and about a third say they see them every day," he said.   
In addition, half of respondents lack heat in winter and a quarter have mold in their apartments. Marciniak said that bed bugs, poor ventilation and faulty elevators also plague about a quarter of the tenants that were surveyed.
Basic repairs seen as hurdle
ACORN wants the City of Toronto to implement mandatory annual inspections of all buildings with three or more floors and more than 10 units. The program would be similar to the DineSafe restaurant licensing system. Landlords that fail the inspections would face large fines.
"That would teach them a lesson," Horne said. "They live happy wherever they live and they own a building. Why can't they make people happy the same way?"
Getting basic repairs done is a hurdle nearly 70 percent of respondents said they struggle with.
Horne said numerous written requests to her landlord have gone unfulfilled.
Although there is a complaint system for tenants through the city's 311 system, nearly one third of respondents said they see no point in calling.
'I'm not going to keep silent'
"Because they're afraid," Horne said. "A lot of people are complaining about it, but they're keeping silent. I'm not going to keep silent."
Horne said her building manager sends maintenance workers who are not qualified to do repairs, and they often make them worse. "You can't bring people in to do the work of electrician or plumber that don't have a licence," she said. "You have to bring professional people."
ACORN has been pushing for a policy to ensure landlords face the same scrutiny as other business owners in Toronto.
"We'd like to see landlord licensing," said Marciniak. "Also, an engagement program for tenants so they know their rights and they know the city is looking out for them."  
In June, Toronto city council voted 33-6 to ask municipal licensing staff to start public consultations on a plan to crack down on bad landlords.
ACORN Canada president Marva Burnett said ACORN members will be at city hall over the next two months as city council reviews a staff report to ensure any new program is the best one possible.
"Toronto city council and Mayor John Tory have a golden opportunity to leave a legacy and ensure all tenants live in a healthy home," Burnett said in a statement. 
Article by Laura DaSilva for CBC News