London Free Press: 'Toronto solution' to inspecting apartment buildings a non-starter for committee

Posted June 22, 2022

London’s system for tackling unfixed breakdowns in rental units isn’t working — on that, politicians and tenants agree.

Where they differ is how to change that reality for tens of thousands of people who rent their homes across the city.

A push to look into a proactive inspection system for apartment buildings in London — modelled after one in Toronto — was narrowly shot down during the Tuesday meeting of council’s community and protective services committee, even as tenants and advocates protested outside city hall.

“I’m not sure the Toronto solution is the London solution,” Mayor Ed Holder said. “To immediately just throw money at the situation and throw all landlords into this mix, it doesn’t make practical sense to me.”

City staff recommended against a program like Rent Safe TO that includes an evaluation of almost all rental buildings every three years. Those that score badly on an initial evaluation are audited more closely.

A motion tabled by Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer to develop a business case for the program during the next multi-year budget failed on a tie vote.

Helmer and councillors Maureen Cassidy and Mo Salih voted in favour. Holder and councillors Mariam Hamou and Steve Hillier were opposed.

Helmer pointed to statistics from the Toronto system that has seen evaluation scores rise from 65 per cent to mid-to-high 70s since the inspection program began several years ago. Complaints have also soared, from 6,000 a year to nearly 10,000. Most complaints are addressed within three weeks, he said.

“We don’t want to just license people for no reason,” Helmer said. “We want . . . better living conditions for people in rental housing.”

Allowing problems to fester is not a small issue, he said.

But city hall staff said it would take dozens more bylaw officers and fire prevention officers to begin inspecting London’s unlicensed rentals. Apartment units and townhomes are exempt from city hall’s rental licensing rules that apply to single-family homes.

During a previous debate, staff said 37 new bylaw officers would be needed to do annual inspections of every rental in the city. Toronto employs 33 full-time employees to operate its program.

Instead, staff suggest streamlining existing processes, such as creating a single email and phone number for tenants to report issues or file complaints. They are required to first alert the landlord.

Absentee and out-of-town landlords allowing their buildings to fall into disrepair are a major issue in London, staff say. In rare cases where tenant safety is at huge risk, city hall will make fixes and bill the owner.

Fines can also be laid for violations of London’s bylaws, such as the property standards. Inspections blitzes are done in areas with high volumes of complaints, which makes more sense than inspecting buildings with no problems, city hall bylaw boss Orest Katolyk said.

ACORN London, an advocacy group lobbying for better inspections, organized a rally outside city hall on Tuesday. One leader said the lack of action from city staff and politicians is “galling.”

“It isn’t just a good idea, it’s an essential idea right now. We’re in a crisis situation (with housing) right now, but it’s heading toward catastrophe,” Jordan Smith said of the rental inspection system, citing skyrocketing rents.

“They don’t even bother to give a justification for why they’re not implementing the program . . . the Toronto Rent Safe program has been effective. Not only has it brought up the standard of living for some of the most vulnerable Torontonians, but it’s proven to be economically viable as well,” he added.

Smith said ACORN won’t let up until changes are made in London.

“We all understand the necessity of a program like this as a ground zero for basic accountability. To do nothing during a time of unprecedented crisis, it’s just unacceptable.”

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Article by Megan Stacey for the London Free Press

 

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