Toronto Star: Toronto council approves new bylaw to protect tenants

Posted March 30, 2017

Toronto tenants can look forward to safer, cleaner places to live, following the almost unanimous approval by city council of a new regulatory bylaw for landlords.
Starting this summer, building owners must register with the city and will be expected to track tenant complaints, respond quickly to requests for repairs and provide effective pest control.
“This has been a truly collective, collaborative team effort, between city staff, between members of council, advocacy organizations, not-for-profits and the public at large,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, on the council floor.
The bylaw is a “deeply substantive” piece of policy that would improve the lives of tenants and hold landlords who have long put profit over people to account, he said.
The rules come into force on July 1. Property owners are expected to sign up within the first three to four months and must re-register every year.
Enforcement will begin precisely 12 months after the launch and the program will apply to 3,500 buildings, anything with three or more storeys and 10 or more units, or roughly 350,000 apartments.
Under the new rules, landlords must respond to urgent requests in 24 hours, including if water and heat are shut off, and tackle smaller complaints within seven days. The rules also require a waste management and capital repair plan. Pest complaints must be inspected in 72 hours and handled by licensed exterminators and tenants informed by a posted notice. The unit number will not be made public and landlords can’t rent an apartment with a pest problem.
The protections extend to Toronto Community Housing buildings, but the money will come from private properties.
Tracey Cook, executive director of Municipal Licensing and Standards, described the bylaw as a meaningful tool, created with both the needs of tenants and landlords in mind and one they expect to be able to enforce.
The program will cost about $5 million, with 53 per cent of costs to be recovered through an annual registration fee, costing $10.60 for each unit, 12 per cent from enforcement action, and 35 per cent from property taxes.
“This is a mix of carrot and sticks,” said Councillor Janet Davis, asking city staff to explain when tenants can expect a crackdown on noncompliant landlords.
“Where are the sticks, what are the sticks?” asked Davis, who has long pushed for stronger tenant protections. Davis’s ward is the home of 500 Dawes Rd., a building with a long history of reported pest and maintenance problems.
Prior to the launch, city staff will continue to inspect buildings and order repairs. Not complying with the new rules could mean paying $108 per hour for inspections, or $1,800 for an audit. A fine of up to $100,000 could be laid through provincial offences court, for a contravention of the bylaw.
Smaller fees could be passed on to tenants, as buildings constructed after 1991 are exempt from rent control rules.
What won’t be allowed, council heard, are landlords passing on the cost of capital repairs ordered by the city, through above-guideline rent increases.
Mark Sraga, director investigation services, with the city’s licensing division said the Residential Tenancies Act has clear language around compliance with orders, or that landlords must absorb those expenses.
“They cannot pass those costs on to tenants,” Sraga told the Star.
A key voice for tenants has been the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN. Natalie Hundt, chair of ACORN Institute Canada, said their long fight was fueled by widespread and appalling conditions across Toronto.
“The results are real life results, people will be living better, children will not have to get asthma from mould,” said Hundt. “This is really important.”
Article by Emily Mathieu for the Toronto Star