Posted November 1, 2016
Cockroaches and bedbugs, poor ventilation and mold, faulty elevators and lack of heat in the winter.
These are among the most common problems faced by Toronto tenants, according to a new survey being released Tuesday.
“The majority of Toronto tenants are struggling to pay their rising rents and at the same time have major deficiencies in their homes,” says the survey by ACORN Toronto, which represents about 20,000 low- and moderate-income residents across the city.
“The conditions in the buildings indicated by this report are unacceptable and illustrate the need for a city-wide policy solution,” it concludes.
The survey, which asked tenants about the condition of their apartments, how well landlords responded to requests for repairs and if the city was able to help, collected 174 responses between August and October this year. About 95 per cent were living in conditions that violate the city’s property standards bylaw, according to the survey.
Among the more startling findings was that more than 83 per cent of respondents have seen a cockroach in their apartment, with 31 per cent reporting daily sightings. More than 30 per cent experienced a bedbug infestation in the past two years. About 53 per cent reported a lack of heating in their building and almost one-quarter have been trapped in an elevator in the past two years.
Almost 70 per cent said they had difficulty getting repairs done and about 30 per cent said they felt afraid to ask.
“A (landlord) licensing regime would increase the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of residents while being revenue neutral and costing taxpayers nothing,” the report notes.
The ACORN survey comes on the eve of Wednesday’s tenant issues committee meeting when councillors will hear a city staff presentation on a “framework for a multi-residential rental property licence.”
City council endorsed the concept last spring and directed municipal licensing staff to hold public consultations over the summer and report on a way forward.
Licensing staff’s proposed framework recommends registering (rather than “licensing”) all rental buildings with three or more storeys and 10 or more units, noting it would be difficult to revoke a licence “due to the landlord-tenant relationship,” according to notes submitted in advance of the presentation.
“We can take away somebody’s right to run a business, but when that business is housing thousands of people, arguably, that is not something we can really do,” said Mark Sraga, director of inspections for municipal licensing.
However, the proposal still calls for an annual fee of between $8 and $13 per unit, depending on how much of the program’s $4.4 million annual cost city council decides should come out of the pockets of bad landlords.
As city licensing staff recommended earlier this year, landlords would be required to have a process for receiving and tracking tenant repair requests, regular maintenance schedules, waste management, cleaning, pest control and preventive maintenance plans as well as a capital state-of-good repair plan.
Instead of annual inspections envisioned last winter, the proposed framework suggests “pre-audits” of all buildings to establish a baseline of living conditions and to prioritize those for a full audit based on risk. The pre-audit would also determine frequency of subsequent visits for the remaining buildings, the staff framework suggests.
The city’s current apartment auditing system, which is based on complaints, “isn’t good enough,” said ACORN president Marva Burnett. Just 2 per cent of tenants surveyed said the system had improved their living conditions, she noted.
“We need landlord licensing to make sure that all apartments meet basic property standards and our people have a healthy place to raise their family,” she said. “Children shouldn’t have to grow up with cockroaches, without heat in winter and with broken elevators.”
Scarborough tenant Saif Greenidge, 59, who lives with a son, 16 and a daughter, 20, in a building on Lawrence Ave. E., near Markham Rd., says he noticed property standards violations in his apartment the day he moved in, similar to almost 70 per cent of survey respondents.
“The cockroaches are relentless. There is peeling paint from upstairs floods and a lot of mold in the bathroom,” he said. But despite raising these problems with the building superintendant on numerous occasions, he said nothing has happened.
“He has not addressed this at all. As long as he gets his rent, he doesn’t seem to care too much,” said Greenidge, who is co-chair of ACORN’s Scarborough chapter.
The building’s superintendant, who refused to give his name, said he isn’t aware of any problems in Greenidge’s unit.
“We try to do everything we can,” he said in a phone interview Monday, adding the building is sprayed regularly for pests.
As of Oct. 28, the city’s multi-residential apartment building audit program lists 30 outstanding property standards violations from a November 2015 audit of the building that flagged 85 problems. Multiple attempts to reach the building’s owners were unsuccessful.
With city council expected to vote on the issue in December, ACORN members will lobby their councillors to support tenants, who make up half of the city’s population, Burnett said.
“We’re going to be talking with our city councillors, making sure they know they have to look out for all the people, not just homeowners,” she said. “Don’t we deserve the same rights as everyone else? We pay taxes too, don’t we?”
Article by Laurie Monsebraaten for the Toronto Star