Toronto Star: Opinion: City of Toronto needs to stop renovictions, protect affordable housing

Posted February 25, 2022

Affordable housing in Toronto is in scarce supply and under attack. A recent report by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario revealed a staggering 294 per cent increase in landlord applications to evict tenants at the Landlord and Tenant Board (the “LTB”) since 2016, in order to convert, demolish or extensively renovate the rental unit or residential complex.

These no-fault evictions are colloquially known as “renovictions,” and they are not only forcing many low- and moderate-income tenants out of their homes, but they are also contributing to Toronto’s housing crisis by destroying what little is left of the city’s supply of truly affordable housing.

A major reason for this is the absence of vacancy control laws at the provincial level to limit rent gouging by landlords, which contributes to the displacement of tenants. When a rental unit becomes vacant, a landlord may increase the rent to market value.

Conversely, provincial rent control laws limit the percentage by which a landlord can increase a tenant’s rent from year to year. The end result is a financial incentive for landlords to evict long-term tenants who have benefitted from rent control, and increase the rent for the newly vacant rental unit to maximize their profits.

Provincial law allows landlords to evict tenants to undertake extensive renovations, but requires landlords to compensate tenants with up to three months’ rent. The law also provides tenants with an opportunity to exercise a right of first refusal: the right to return to the rental unit after the renovations are complete, and pay the same rent.

Unfortunately, many tenants are unaware of their landlord’s legal obligations and their own legal rights, including their right to contest their landlord’s notice of termination at the LTB. Many landlords also take advantage of the shortcomings in the provincial law: landlords do not need to provide proof of having obtained the necessary building permits for their renovations before issuing a notice of termination to their tenants. Consequently, many tenants simply move out based on their landlord’s bald assertion about undertaking extensive renovations, leaving behind the place they once called their home, and the people with whom they established community.

Toronto ACORN has been doorknocking and talking to scores of tenants in low- and moderate-income neighbourhoods who either lost their homes or are being forced to take buyouts by their landlords. In some cases, tenants have been offered buyout packages as low as $1,500, which barely covers moving costs, and does nothing to pay the increased rent tenants will be forced to pay in Toronto’s private market.

In British Columbia, the City of New Westminster set a precedent by amending its Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) bylaw in order to curb renovictions. The amendments require landlords to obtain the requisite building permits and make arrangements for their tenants’ accommodation during and after the renovation, prior to issuing their notice of termination. If a landlord fails to do so, they will incur a severe financial penalty, and potentially lose their licence. Since the amendments to the bylaw were passed, there have been zero renovictions in New Westminster.

Toronto needs to take similar initiative and use its municipal power to combat renovictions. The city can make better use of tools it already has by creating new requirements for landlords through the Apartment Buildings bylaw, the RentSafeTO program and the building permitting process. The city can put knowledge and power into the hands of tenants by requiring the distribution of information about eviction prevention alongside eviction notices. Further, the city could require that landlords take care of their tenants by adding extra requirements to the building permit application or approval process.

Another important initiative the city can take is to create a public register of tenant buyouts, building permits and home sales. The city must monitor the sale of rental buildings and inform tenants of their rights. These proposed regulations are not onerous burdens on good faith landlords. Rather, they are mechanisms that prevent landlords from abusing the current system and address Toronto’s housing crisis and lack of affordable housing. Lastly, the city needs to exercise its ability to impose major financial penalties for contravention of any bylaws or regulations. The question remains, how soon can the City of Toronto take these steps to protect thousands of low- and moderate-income tenants? Or, maybe more importantly, how long can tenants afford to wait?

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Bhavin Bilimoria and Karly Wilson are with Don Valley Community Legal Services. Patricia Edwards is a member of Toronto ACORN.

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Opinion for the Toronto Star

 

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