Toronto Star: Crack down on ‘slum landlords,’ critics urge

It costs $1,100 a month to rent a three-bedroom apartment in the tower at 10 San Romanoway — but Glenice Edwards could do without the cockroaches.

Her city councillor agrees that bugs are a common problem in the Jane and Finch corridor — and that the city should act faster to force landlords to clean up their act.

Edwards is also worried the mould that grows out of the fan above her stove will harm the health of her young sons. She was once trapped in a broken elevator for 20 minutes on the way down from her 14th floor apartment.

But despite four years worth of complaints, the landlord of her 34-storey building “hasn’t done a thing,” she said.

“The roaches come and go,” she said. “It’s a mess. It’s a disaster.”

Edwards is part of the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now, a group of 20,000 Torontonians, calling on the city to crack down on “slum landlords.”

While cockroaches, mould and broken elevators are common complaints in Edwards’ building, they are dealt with in a timely manner, said Eric Khan of RPMS property management services.

“We’re a good landlord,” said Khan. “We have a maintenance program in place where we have a licensed contractor that comes in to treat the building common areas as well as the individual apartment units if a tenant brings that to our attention.”

The city has a program designed specifically to inspect rental apartment buildings when tenants feel ignored by their landlords. However, critics are concerned it’s moving too slow and that problem landlords are ignoring the orders of inspectors.

“There has been a significant increase in repairs and there has been proactive enforcement. However, I think it’s pretty clear that the program lacks teeth,” said Geordie Dent, director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations.

More than 500 of Toronto’s 5,000 multi-residential rental buildings have been audited since the program was launched in 2008 — but so far only 1,400 of the 2,600 orders issued by city inspectors have been followed.

Bill Blakes, who oversees the program, said building-wide audits are conducted as quickly as possible with its 14 dedicated inspectors. Tenants can also report complaints about their individual units. Urgent complaints are dealt with within 24 hours, while regular complaints are investigated within five days with a 60-day grace period for landlords to comply.

“I think the program is working very efficiently,” Blakes said.

However, councillor Anthony Perruzza would like to see the program grow — especially in his Ward 8, which covers the Jane and Finch corridor. About 62 per cent of Ward 8 residents are renters — higher than the city average of 46 per cent.

“The system moves slowly and some living conditions in some buildings continue to be very, very poor,” Perruzza said. “The worst of it, from my perspective, is roach infestations — when you see bugs and cockroaches and mice going through hallways and in stairwells. Mould and leaky pipes and broken walls and missing doors and elevators that don’t work. Over time I’ve seen lots and lots of things.”

A review of Toronto’s core services recommended funding cuts to Municipal Licensing and Standards, the department responsible for inspections, as part of a city-wide tightening of the purse strings. While building inspections were not specifically put on the chopping block, Perruzza said the department as a whole could suffer.

“When cutbacks hit, they hit everything across the system. If we end up laying off people in municipal licensing, that could impact services,” Perruzza said.

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