Toronto's new apartment bylaw could help crack down on bad landlords

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Special Toronto committee meeting on Monday will focus on rental issues

Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Association, fields constant calls from renters whose landlords are missing in action when it comes to upkeep and repairs.

"One of the worst things right now is, if they just don't do the maintenance, there's not a lot the city can do," he said.

That's about to change if the new proposed bylaw for apartment buildings passes.

In December, council approved, in principle, a new regulatory framework for apartment buildings to help crack down on slum landlords.

Now, the city's municipal licensing and standards committee has put together a set of rules they hope will improve the living conditions of tenants across the city.

The bylaw recommends that apartment building owners and operators:

- Register each year with the city and pay an annual fee.

- Develop a process for receiving and tracking all tenant requests.

- Devise and maintain plans for waste management and cleaning.

- Conduct regular inspections and take action when pests are detected.

- Use licensed contractors for mechanical systems repairs.

- Retain records relating to the operations of the building.

Landlords who fail to comply with these regulations would be issued violation notices and face fines up to $100,000.

That's music to Dent's ears.

"Writing down laws is all good and dandy, but when the rubber hits the road, you have to ensure the landlord actually has to follow them," he said. "That it's more in their interest to do so than not."

'No one has gotten hurt ... yet.'

Helen Chilas lives in an East York building near Woodbine Avenue and O'Connor Drive with crumbling concrete in the parking garage. Even as a member of the tenant board, she's in the dark about when she'll finally feel safe. 

"No one has gotten hurt ... yet," she said. "But that is our concern." 

A laundry list of repairs from a 2013 audit that were to be completed by 2014 have been left untouched, including damaged balconies and an uneven parking garage floor. 

When it comes to maintenance under the new bylaw, urgent requests would have to be responded to within 24 hours and non-urgent ones within seven days. 

Chilas is hopeful it will give a louder voice to renters.

Stipulations to protect new tenants 

There are also stipulations that would protect new tenants.

For example, owners would not be able to rent out any units that they knew contained pests. Landlords with unresolved bylaw violation strikes against them would be prohibited from bringing in new renters.

Councillor Cesar Palacio, chair of the municipal licensing and standards committee, said this bylaw will arm enforcement officers will the tools needed to ensure compliance.   

"There will be a process in place that's fair, that's equitable, that's enforceable and that's open at the same time and transparent to everyone," he said.

Bylaw would add to 'current inequity,' critic says

Daryl Chong, president and CEO of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association, says apartment buildings have a municipal property tax rate that is nearly three times higher than the rate charged to house and condo owners. 

Asking owners to pay annual fees would widen the gap further, he said. 

"The province acknowledged that Toronto's apartment property tax rate is far too high and is negatively affecting affordability, and has mandated a tax freeze," Chong said. "However, the city is adding new fees without regard to the current inequity."

Bylaw could come into effect July 1

Palacio said most building owners in Toronto are playing by the rules.

"But the few that are not? We're going after them," he said.  

Staff is recommending the apartment bylaw comes into effect July 1, 2017.

The licensing and standards committee will review the recommendations at their meeting on March 6, and the staff report will be considered by city council on March 28.