Posted November 14, 2019
More than two years after council signed off on new rules to protect renters the city is “failing” in their promise to improve conditions for tenants, said a city councillor who led the push for the RentSafe program.
“More and more people in the city are going to be living in multi-residential buildings. These are our people. These are the residents of Toronto,” said Josh Matlow, speaking at a press conference before a meeting of the planning and housing committee at city hall on Wednesday. “We have a responsibility to protect their health and safety. We are failing.”
RentSafe, the less formal name for the bylaw through which it was birthed, Municipal Code Chapter 354, Apartment Buildings, came into effect in July 2017.
The program requires landlords to register and pay a fee and is meant to ensure cleaner, safer buildings through a more rigorous inspection process and increased communication on behalf of landlords, regarding any repair or pest issues.
Matlow spoke alongside Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who moved a motion on his behalf at committee requesting, among other things, that council reaffirm a commitment to yet-to-be-implemented parts of the program and add elements that strengthen the powers available to city inspection staff. Those motions will be debated by city council later this month.
Council is also expected to vote on whether to request Toronto Police investigate “fraudulent activities” by landlords who abuse sections of the Residential Tenancies Act for profit.
One frequently cited example is the N13 process, which allows landlords to apply to have tenants removed during work that requires a building permit. The law demands tenants be allowed back in when work is done but, in what advocates have dubbed “renovictions,” a loophole in the law means if landlords find new people to pay more and move them in the law has no way to force those new tenants out.
Wong-Tam said if city staff require additional resources to beef up inspection and enforcement both she and Matlow intended to fight for that money as part of the 2020 budget process.
“We can fix this problem. This problem is human made and it can be corrected with human action,” Wong-Tam said. The city needs to do what was promised by way of policy, she said, while managing the operation of the evolving program and ensuring proper enforcement.
City staff, in a report sent to committee, found that the “RentSafe program has been effective in meeting its objectives to date,” but included a string of recommendations to improve the bylaw.
What was expected and yet to be delivered, according to Matlow and Wong-Tam, was a standardized complaints system, limits on how landlords can appeal work orders before the property and standards committee, administrative penalties that would allow city staff to levy bigger fines and a ranking system similar to the DineSafe program.
DineSafe is a city-monitored program that ranks cleanliness and safety in eating establishments and posts a colour-coded report card in the window. The program came into effect following an investigation by the Star’s Rob Cribb who, after suffering food poisoning, found that public health complaints were kept secret from the public and fought for that data to be released.
At committee, Daryl Chong, president of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association, reiterated the association’s position that a colour-coded system would stigmatize tenants and should not be used.
City staff, in the report, are requesting that council amend the bylaw to compel landlords to post copies of building evaluations on tenant notification boards, with program information, any notices of fire code violations and information related to pest management.
Members from Toronto ACORN were at the press conference to depute about living conditions and present a new report that showed of 107 low- and moderate-income tenants recently surveyed less than half knew the program existed.
One third of the 46 per cent who know it existed were “active” ACORN members. Among the full 107 surveyed, 46 per cent reported not having a tenant notification board and 60 per cent reported moving into units in need of repairs, 34 per cent reported seeing bed bugs over the past two years, and seven out of 10 people surveyed said temperature control, both hot and cold, was a key issue.
Council will also be asked to approve a request to the province that Toronto’s municipal licensing and standards staff be allowed to investigate rental housing law infractions as part of the RentSafe program.
Included in the staff report presented to planning and housing is a recommendation that a new fee structure be put in place that would enable the city to “recover costs incurred” through providing emergency services to tenants “evacuated due to safety concerns.”
Council is being asked to consider this new cost recovery formula more than a year after a six-alarm fire completely destroyed the electrical system of 650 Parliament St., rendering the highrise uninhabitable and forcing roughly 1,500 residents from their homes.
Article by Emily Mathieu for the Toronto Star