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Toronto Star: Why Hamilton may have the solution to Toronto’s soaring renoviction problem - ACORN Canada

Toronto Star: Why Hamilton may have the solution to Toronto’s soaring renoviction problem

Posted March 5, 2024

Tying an N13 eviction notice to a building permit and an engineering report could make it harder for landlords to evict tenants in bad faith.

It’s never a great sign when a problem is so novel and yet so commonplace that we need to invent a whole new word to describe it.

But so it goes with renoviction.

It’s a word that blends “renovation” and “eviction” and seemingly dates back only a couple of decades. Vancouver gets credit for sparking both the popularity of the word — it’s credited to housing advocate Heather Pawsey who coined the term in 2008 — and the often-nasty practice it refers to: landlords kicking tenants out to conduct renovations.

It’s generally done with the goal of increasing rent. It’s often done in ways that leave tenants feeling bullied or forced to leave their homes, and unaware of their right to return once the renovations are done. And it’s sometimes done entirely in bad faith, with the renovations either never happening or happening at a scale small enough that the tenant should never have been made to move out in the first place.

And in Toronto, it’s become a pretty regular thing. A previous Toronto city hall report on renovictions said there were just 47 applications made by landlords for N13 evictions in 2015. An N13 is the formal process landlords must go through to evict due to a renovation or demolition. In 2022, according to data published by renter advocacy group ACORN, the number had tripled to more than 150.

By most accounts, these renovictions pursued through the formal N13 process are just a fraction of overall renovictions. Many are pursued informally, ACORN says, through tactics like “neglecting repairs and making conditions for tenants unlivable, offering ‘cash for keys’ or ‘buyouts’ and purposely misleading tenants about their rights.”

Still, even if you set all that aside, ACORN’s data says there were a total of 950 Toronto N13s filed between 2017 and August of last year, about three times as many as the next most renovicted city in Ontario, Hamilton.

But even though the data suggests Toronto has a more dire renoviction problem than our neighbour down the QEW, Hamilton gets credit for stepping up and doing something about it first.

Hamilton city council, led by Mayor Andrea Horwath, passed a new bylaw in January designed to curb renovictions. Among other things, it requires landlords who file an N13 to also obtain a building permit and a report from an engineer laying out their renovation plans and confirming that the renovations will make the building uninhabitable for the duration of the work.

When landlords submit these documents — plus a $715 fee — and are issued a licence under the new bylaw, they also face stricter requirements about supporting the tenant’s temporary relocation and move back into the renovated unit after the work is done.

It’s the kind of policy that’s hard to argue against. It doesn’t really add major new requirements for landlords, as they are already required under the provincial Residential Tenancies Act to ensure renovations are “extensive” before they move to evict. Getting a building permit and involving an engineer are a natural part of doing extensive renovation work. They’re also already required to give tenants a right to return after the renovations conclude. The new bylaw just tries to ensure the landlord has lived up to their obligations.

As such, the Hamilton bylaw as written looks like, at worst, a minor inconvenience for landlords acting in good faith. It looks like a significant roadblock for those trying to pull a fast one on their tenants.

It also creates opportunity for the city to levy penalties for non-compliance beyond those issued by the Landlord and Tenant Board, which are too often below the threshold that would really deter bad behaviour.

Toronto city hall is watching closely. And rightly so. A subcommittee of councillors concerned about the renoviction issue had already concluded in 2022 that linking N13s to building permits was a viable strategy. Last week, the planning and housing committee voted unanimously to look at cribbing from Hamilton and adopting a similar policy. A report — which could be followed by a city council vote to adopt a stronger renoviction bylaw — is scheduled for this spring.

A strong renoviction bylaw is a natural fit within the slew of policies and programs Mayor Olivia Chow has been pursuing to support renters in Toronto. While it’s true the city has seen real progress lately in building new rental housing — the number of new housing starts for rental units doubled in 2023, according to CMHC, from 3,962 in 2022 to 7,959 last year — it makes sense to pair long-term supply-based solutions with stronger protections for tenants.

Because these days finding rental housing in Toronto is just half the battle. The other half? Keeping it.


Article by Matt Elliott for Toronto Star