CTV: Renters rally to raise awareness of slumlords in Sydney

The organizers of a "renter's rage" rally are urging tenants who live in substandard housing to take to the streets of Sydney to express their rage over what they say is a growing number of slum landlords.

It is a landlord's market in the Sydney area, where the demand for rentals far outstrips the supply. Vacancy rates have dipped to two per cent and many low-income tenants who don't qualify for public housing simply have to take what they can get.

"If you are a renter in a place that is owned by a slumlord, and your place is not fit for habitation, you are probably not going to complain about that," says rally organizer Rhonda MacDougall. 

Advocates for rental reform say it is time to change that and take a stand. They want tenants to better understand their rights and voice complaints without fear of intimidation or even eviction.

"People are absolutely terrified to say anything," says MacDougall. "We've gone around and gone to places where people were too afraid to sign...a petition supporting us in what we are doing."

But the association that represents 150 local landlords disputes what the tenant group calls a slumlord epidemic.

"It's the first I heard of it being an epidemic for slum landlords," says Priscilla Lotherington of the Landlords Association. "I think there has always been a group of rental properties that maybe haven't been up to code, or less desirable, but I don't think there is any epidemic going on."

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality enforces a rigorous minimum standards bylaw for rental housing, but it is a system driven by complaints, not by routine inspections.

"Approximately 30 last year were for minimum standards issue and of the 30 that were validated, I believe there were approximately 15 or so that were valid complaints for minimum standards," says CBRM Inspections and Bylaws manager Rick Fraser.

Some landlords are boarding up former rental properties which adds to the shortage of units and leaves tenants with even fewer choices of where to live.

Original article available at: http://atlantic.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20120410/renter_rally_120410/20120410/?hub=AtlanticHome