By Nooria Alam and Harshita Singh
During the summer of 2016, Basics’ members attended public consultation meetings held by the City of Toronto to discuss the proposed Landlord Licensing program. The results and feedback of those public consultations were compiled online and used to guide what the final policy would look like. Though the Landlord Licensing Program is set to be launched later this year, there are many questions still left unanswered.
The Landlord License, or the Multi-Residential Rental Property License Program, was passed in City Hall on December 2016 and will be implemented in mid-2017. All landlords of multi-residential properties of three or more storeys and/or ten or more units will be required to register for a license with the City.
The license is also supposed to help the License and Standards Committee (LSC) and Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) enforce Toronto Municipal Code around housing and rental living conditions.
The license is being celebrated by activists in the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and City councillors alike. It will operate similarly to the DineSafe inspection program, in that coloured signs (red, green or yellow) posted in building lobbies would provide a “rank” for the rental property. “It provides transparency and accountability,” says Councillor Josh Matlow. “It tells prospective tenants what they’re walking into before they sign on the dotted line.” Legislation around the landlord license will at least give the City names of all landlords that may be keeping properties under minimum standards and breaking municipal bylaws. But is that enough?
Currently, the City does not have a database of all landlords and buildings in Toronto. Now that each landlord will be licensed, the City will finally have a much-needed record of the more than 3,500 apartment buildings within Toronto. The only information the City has made available so far has been collected by an audit of buildings through the Multi-Residential Building Audit program (MRAB) established in 2008. In almost 8 years, the City has only managed to inspect 1,046 buildings, less than a third of the total number of buildings that exist, as of December 2016.
How successful will the license be at completing even the most simple of its primary aims: holding landlords accountable to bylaws in order to improve poor living conditions, and giving tenants more information about laws that keep them protected?
Here are areas of the Multi-Residential Rental Property License to watch out for:
The registration fee
Although it was in the power of City to institutionalize the license, most of the decisions around how the license will be implemented are to be made by the Province of Ontario.
Questions as simple as whether the registration fee for the license will be passed down from landlords into the tenants’ rent remain unanswered. “The Landlord and Tenant Board is the ultimate decision maker on whether an above guideline rent increase is permitted and the City does not have a role in how landlords address any additional costs incurred by landlords, including costs of the proposed licensing regime” reads a report on the license on the City’s website.
While the Ontario NDP has recently proposed a bill to extend rent control to buildings that were built after 1991, this small step is already being faced with huge backlash from property owners and landlords. Although the proposed change will limit rental fee increases per year to 1.5%, it does not fundamentally change the already unaffordable rental market in Toronto.
The landlord license does nothing to address constant repair issues due to the existing old housing stock.
Currently, the costs of repairs usually fall on to tenants – addressing the old housing stock is considered an “extraordinary” expense in terms of renovations, repairs and replacements. Landlords can apply for “above guideline increases” (AGIs) to rent beyond the currently legal 3% a year limit and download the burden of capital expenses onto their tenants. Tenants at 87 Jameson Avenue in Parkdale have responded to a proposed rent increase by going on rent strike.
Municipal officers can only make Landlords enforce “Minimum Code Standards”
Minimum Code Standards are outlined in the Toronto Property Standards Municipal Code. When asked by BASICS what these standards consist of at a community consultation, Municipal Officer Martin McComb gave an example: “If a cabinet in somebody’s unit has a hole in it or is scratched up, the landlord can put up a board over the damage to cover it. I can’t make them purchase new cabinets.”
Inspections made by Municipal Officers through the Landlord Licensing Program only include common areas, electrical systems, elevators, and boilers. Our most immediate living conditions, inside of our homes and rental units, will not be inspected regularly – rather, they will only be inspected if the City gets enough complaints, which hasn’t been working for many residents so far.
Inspections do not necessarily improve quality of living for tenants, because most of the time the responsibility of making repairs falls on the tenants themselves.
The License does not apply to condos or housing co-ops
As proposed, landlord licensing would apply to some 3,300 rental apartment buildings with ten units or more that are three storeys or higher. It would not apply to condos or co-ops. It is also not clear how the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) will be included into the licensing program. The City is the owner of the TCHC, a $9 billion public asset which represents 2,100 buildings and 50 million square feet of residential space.
Using the Landlord and Tenant board to fight for better living conditions just leads to more bureaucracy, not better homes.
ACORN has spent over twelve years lobbying the City of Toronto to incorporate the landlord licensing program. Although the City has finally passed this bill, the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee Report concludes that ‘a regulatory approach through licensing does not present any advantages over other regulatory tools authorized by the City of Toronto Act of 2006 and may actually create additional complexities that would not contribute to the programs goals of bringing rental apartment buildings into compliance’.
If tenants have grievances, they must file complaints with the Landlord and Tenant board, which is under the jurisdiction of the province of Ontario. The Landlord Licensing program is a by-law of the City of Toronto. How will the gap between these two jurisdictions play out? Like much else about the licensing, probably not in the favour of tenants.
So what is the point of introducing the license?
It simply gives city councillors an opportunity to appear progressive around housing concerns without addressing our fundamental concerns. Without pressure from tenants, Toronto’s landlords don’t need to make permanent repairs to continue earning profits from their property. The landlord license will not change this.
Improving our living conditions takes more than just fixing a few random pipes in a bathroom, or tiles in a living room. Our homes have been reduced to a list of broken problems; our lives turned into lists for superintendents or 311 to solve.
City bylaws dilute living condition problems into repair problems. They take away our agency as tenants to come together and find real solutions to our collective problems.
Changing our living conditions requires people to have control and power over their lives. That is what we don’t have, and what we must build towards. So let’s get to work.