ACORN Newsletter

Stay current with ACORN news and events by joining our mailing list. You will receive updates in your inbox every month.



Toronto Star: A Toronto landlord is charging extra for A/C. Here’s why these tenants are pushing back - ACORN Canada

Toronto Star: A Toronto landlord is charging extra for A/C. Here’s why these tenants are pushing back

Posted July 31, 2023

Charges for amenities are one-way landlords of rent-controlled units can pass on higher costs, a tenant advocate says.

As temperatures soar, tenants inside one rent-controlled North York apartment building are fighting for the right to stay cool. Residents who have hydro included in their rent at 140 Elm Ridge Dr., near Eglinton Avenue West and Allen Road, were recently sent a letter indicating they have to pay $150 for the use of window air-conditioning units, said longtime tenant Cristiano DaSilva.

“For them to have the audacity to charge us this fee, it’s very concerning,” said DaSilva, who shared a copy of the letter with the Star. DaSilva said he’s lived in the building for nearly a decade and used his air-conditioning unit every summer without charge. Other tenants were also upset about the letter, he said. “The general consensus is that the fee is outrageous.”

It’s the latest public battle over air conditioning, which, with the worsening climate crisis and hotter, longer summers, has gone from being seen as a luxury to what some argue is now a necessity. And as inflation and interest rates soar, advocates say hiking or adding fees for air conditioning and other amenities is one way landlords of rent-controlled units can pass on higher costs to their tenants. It will be hard for many residents at 140 Elm Ridge Dr., an apartment tower built in the late ’60s, to stomach what’s essentially an increase in rent, said DaSilva.

“Especially in this economic volatility, where homelessness is on the rise and the cost of living is exponentially increasing.” The 35-year-old, who works in security, said he has never had to pay for air conditioning before and did not agree to the charge.

Danny Roth, a spokesperson for the building’s property management firm Sterling Karamar, said there is language in the lease, a copy of which the Star has seen, that says tenants need to pay for the use of appliances, in addition to those supplied by the landlord, including air-conditioning units. However, in response to tenant feedback, the company sent another letter — which DaSilva also shared with the Star — in mid-June encouraging tenants who objected to the fee to “reach out to management, and management will, on a case-by-case basis look at the policy and look at ways to take a more progressive approach to what is in the lease,” Roth said.

He stopped short of saying they would not have to pay, but said the letter shows a “committed willingness to work with the tenants on a solution.” In what he described as the current tense landlord-tenant climate, Roth said that’s “what you want from a management company, which is to take a considered approach to policies on an individual basis, and where they can apply compassion and reasonableness, they should.”

Asked why the company started charging for air-conditioning now, Roth said he can’t comment on individual tenant circumstances due to privacy. “It’s not a change, it’s in the lease that the tenant signed,” he said. The owner of the building, Nubury Properties Limited, did not respond to requests for comment. DaSilva said the property management firm has not backed down on the fees, but the residents are fighting the charge with a tenant union and have connected with ACORN, a tenants’ rights group.

Douglas Kwan, director of advocacy and legal services for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, said he has long heard of landlords hiking fees in rent-controlled apartments for services such as parking. Rent control applies to units first occupied before Nov. 15, 2018, and prohibits landlords from raising rent beyond a percentage set by the province. For 2023, the cap is 2.5 per cent.

Many people are “already struggling” and charging for air conditioning may result in renters suffering through heat waves because they can’t afford to pay, Kwan said. “It shifts the financial burden to the tenant,” he said.

“This is just another way of (landlords) trying to pass along the costs when they can certainly bear the responsibility of cooling and keeping their tenants safe from heat.” The issue goes beyond just this one building, said lawyer Benjamin Ries, executive director of South Etobicoke Community Legal Services. There are hundreds of Landlord and Tenant Board decisions that discuss air conditioning.

In general, he said, a tenant in a case like this could argue that even if there was something in the lease about paying extra for appliances, it hasn’t been enforced. “What’s written in the lease matters of course, it matters a great deal, however, there could be an agreement between a landlord and tenant that over time the way the landlord and tenant have been doing business together can kind of overtake the lease,” he said.

“I think it is a real case-by-case issue — if you have a situation where a tenant has already been allowed, from what we can tell, to have an air conditioner without charges for a long time, who’s to say that the electricity from air conditioning isn’t something that they’re already paying for?” According to the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord and tenant can agree to add a service or facility to the lease and increase rent accordingly, Ries said.

Earlier this year, the province made amendments to the act, under Bill 97, but it’s still not clear whether this will mean a significant change, “or will just be a clearer spelling out of what I think the law already requires,” he added.

As temperatures rise there’s more demand for air conditioners. Although they can make climate change worse, and put pressure on power girds right when they’re most needed, many public health experts are now speaking out about the dangers of extreme heat, especially for vulnerable people like seniors. Toronto Public Health recently cautioned that apartments can be hotter inside than outside and suggested people close their blinds during the day and avoid using the oven.

Toronto is yet to embrace a maximum temperature bylaw, that would require landlords to keep their properties at a livable range. There is already a minimum temperature bylaw for the winter, set at 21 C.

Ries said he understands cities don’t want to impose requirements that are impossible for landlords to meet. But “on the other hand, I think there’s a growing recognition especially in the health-care sector, that heat presents a danger to certainly some tenants if not most tenants, the hotter it gets,” he said.

“Our implicit response seems to be, take a cold shower or start fanning yourself with the newspaper. In 2023, we should be beyond this.”

Although some relief is forecasted for the weekend, Friday is expected to be “extremely hot,” according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, with humidex values reaching 40 C in many areas.

This month was the hottest July on record, since the agency began collecting data, in 1939.


Article by May Warren for Toronto Star