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The Pointer: MARC program not meeting the mark; Mississauga approves motion to increase accountability of landlords - ACORN Canada

The Pointer: MARC program not meeting the mark; Mississauga approves motion to increase accountability of landlords

Posted January 8, 2024

Poorly maintained windows freezing over during winter months, infestations, wall cracks and peeling paint, dangerous mould and broken elevators causing accessibility issues — these are some of the complaints that have been shrugged off by Mississauga landlords.

A city-run program is supposed to protect tenants whose rights are routinely violated by unethical property managers and landlords. But there remains a disconnect.

In November 2021, City Council approved the Mississauga Apartment Rental Compliance (MARC) pilot program “to ensure Mississauga’s rental buildings are safe places for people to live in.” The program was then launched in July 2022.

Many tenants in Mississauga have complained about property managers neglecting routine repairs. In some cases issues have been ignored for weeks or even months at a time; garbage and other waste have piled up, and in more severe cases, infestations have been ignored. Yet, despite clear evidence of neglect, some Mississauga buildings continue to get a passing score.

A local tenant advocacy group wants landlords held accountable. And a recent motion at City Council could increase standards. At a December 13 meeting, Councillor Dipika Damerla presented a notice of motion requesting several changes to the five-year pilot program, including increasing the evaluation passing score from 51 percent to 61 percent in the first quarter of 2024 to encourage building owners to consistently improve maintenance standards, noting that currently, 27 percent of Mississauga residents are renters.

The motion called on staff to enhance the MARC program’s existing website to contain interactive information including but not limited to the registration status of buildings, proactive inspection results, and any enforcement action that has been undertaken to improve tenants’ access to information and provide greater program transparency, and that the website be updated no later than the second quarter of 2024.

It also requested staff study the feasibility of enhancing the report card process to include the annual building evaluations and unit inspection results as part of the overall scoring “to improve service delivery and increase compliance rates”; improve education and outreach activities; and rebrand the program name so it is easily identifiable and reflective of the pilot’s purpose. Requests also included having staff provide an updated budget and resource framework, including staffing that is required to implement any recommended program changes; and that staff conduct a review of the annual registration fee which is currently $18.25 per residential unit, and report back on each of these initiatives in the first quarter of 2024.

The motion passed 11-1 with Councillor Brad Butt opposed.

For several years, Peel ACORN, the local branch of a national organization that advocates for low-and medium-income tenants, campaigned to the City of Mississauga to implement a rental compliance program, similar to the Toronto RentSafe program — a proactive bylaw enforcement strategy that ensures apartment building owners and operators comply with basic building maintenance standards.

With tenants struggling to get action from landlords, while facing the risk of eviction for raising concerns, Peel ACORN pushed for the City, not residents, to take action against bad actors operating in Mississauga, often failing to comply with municipal property standard bylaws. The MARC program was the answer.

The City approved the program as a five-year pilot covering 337 buildings and 30,322 units across the city, that are two storeys or more and six or more units. Under the program, all rental buildings that fall under the criteria are required to register with the City. If they fail to, landlords face a maximum penalty of $100,000.

Once they are registered, building owners are required to ensure apartment buildings meet a series of minimum standards and practices such as tenant service requests, waste management, tenant notification boards, and pest management, among others. The municipality is then expected to schedule inspections of all common areas and assign a score based on state of repair, cleanliness, pest prevention and compliance with the program requirements. An overall score is then generated based on the evaluation which determines the timeline for the next inspection. Scores above 50 percent are considered a pass. Anything below that mark triggers an audit of the building.

Since its launch, City staff have inspected 99 percent of the buildings with evaluations for 314 out of 315 completed. Staff have also addressed approximately 1,500 by-law violations during evaluations and investigated approximately 1,700 service requests at apartment buildings within the program in 2022 and 2023 combined.

With the City now a year into the pilot program, Peel ACORN recently conducted a survey of renters in Mississauga which found serious repair and maintenance issues and limited to no awareness about the MARC program. The survey included sections such as quality of the unit and building, experience getting repairs completed by the owner and awareness of the MARC program. As a result of the survey, the organization demanded immediate changes to the program’s standards.

The data accessed by the advocacy group revealed many buildings got scores above 50 percent despite having significant issues.

“While this was a major win for tenants struggling to access healthy homes free of roaches, mice, and mold, thousands of tenants continue to live with issues that are harming their physical and mental well-being. Moreover, the program is fraught with issues severely limiting its potential to help tenants realize their right to adequate housing,” the tenant survey report by Peel ACORN notes.

It revealed 67 percent of respondents were not aware of the MARC program, 81 percent did not know if their building was registered, 80 percent did not know if their building had been inspected and 70 percent of residents faced problems getting repairs done in the last 12 months. The survey also noted very few buildings post the results of the inspection on a tenant board as required.

A rodent was found in a tenants unit in an apartment complex at 425 Rathburn Road East. An FOI filed by a tenant in the building found this particular complex has received a total of 85 complaints in the last three years.

“The MARC program is failing to protect tenants. Healthy and liveable homes was the promise of the program but landlords are getting away without any accountability. We need much more transparency and tenants need repairs done,” Marcia Bryan, of Peel ACORN, said following the release of the tenant survey.

Based on 125 respondents, it was released November 15, a month before Councillor Damerla introduced her motion, underscoring the issues tenants in Mississauga are facing daily.

The survey revealed a number of worrying findings including that 45 percent of respondents said their unit needed repairs when they first moved in; 20 percent reported seeing cockroaches every day; 50 percent had experienced lack of heat during winters in the past 12 months; 23 percent feel it’s too hot in summer, 44 percent said their appliances work but are old and have problems; and 28 percent said their elevators are often out of order, another 20 percent have unreasonably slow elevators.

The top five issues in the common areas of buildings included cockroaches and/or other bugs, a lack of security, hallway/lobby carpets not being cleaned, stairwells that have gone uncleaned or contain garbage and reports of odours spreading from the garbage chute, which often also goes uncleaned. The top five repair/maintenance issues in-suite included cockroaches and/or other bugs, peeling paint on walls/ceilings, unfinished repairs in the units, lack of heating during winter months and holes or cracks in walls and ceilings.

Some 70 percent of respondents faced problems getting repairs done in the last 12 months; 43 percent reported submitting work orders monthly, 8 percent said they do it weekly and another 8 percent do not submit at all as they don’t see any point; 65 percent of respondents do not get work done in a timely manner, 65 percent of people do not know what to do if their complaints are not addressed by their landlords. Only 10 percent said that they called 311.

In response to the survey findings, Peel ACORN listed a series of demands including increasing the passing score for buildings and creating stricter criteria for buildings to achieve the passing score. Currently, the MARC program is limited to the inspection of common areas. The in-suite inspections do not affect the scoring given to the building. Buildings with low scores or repeated violations must trigger in-suite inspections automatically. Peel ACORN wants changes to these criteria.

“Like with any pilot projects, things need to be looked at after a year. The grading of the buildings right now at 50 is a pass. We believe that mark should be brought up, 50 is far too low,” April Johnston, a member of Peel ACORN, told councillors during the December 13 meeting.

“These building landlords are passing with a lousy 50. The program itself is only limited to the common areas like outside the buildings, the hallways and stuff like that. That’s not where tenants live. Tenants live indoors. Inspections should be done indoors.”

Currently, landlords are required to share the building inspection scores on a tenant notification board but members from the advocacy group noted this is rarely done. Members demanded the City invest “much greater effort and resources” to ensure tenants are aware of the program and how to use it to hold their landlords accountable and get repairs done.

“The program can be successful only if the tenants are aware of the program and use it. As the report shows, very few tenants are aware of the program,” the tenant survey noted.

“Before this program was put in place, the responses that we could really only give to renters is that it’s really out of our hands as municipalities. There’s very little that we can do,” Councillor Chris Fonseca, the seconder of the motion, said. “We have to do better. We have to do better for renters because they are an integral part of our city and what makes our city such a great place.”

Commissioner of Corporate Services Raj Seth said staff will be bringing forward an updated report on the pilot program to council in January, which he said will have much more information.

“Not a lot of people are willing to stand up and fight their landlord, because when I did, I faced seven different eviction notices. So people are afraid to stand up for their rights, and because they don’t know of the MARC program… a lot of tenants don’t call,” Johnston explained. “It’s something that really needs to be pushed on all levels.”


Article by Paige Peacock for The Pointer