A proposed landlord licensing system for Toronto apartment buildings faces its first test this week as councillors consider giving city inspectors more tools to ensure tenants have a “safe, secure and decent place to live.”
“There is a common belief in some political circles that tenants don’t vote,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who has been pushing the idea as chair of the city’s tenant issues subcommittee.
“I believe this is tenants’ opportunity to demonstrate that they are a power to be reckoned with,” he said. “This is an opportunity to do something substantive, something real, that will help the city protect their well-being, their health, their safety and their quality of life in the buildings where they live.”
Tenant activists say they will be pressing councillors to support the move.
“We are very pleased this is coming forward,” said Scarborough resident Marva Burnett, Canadian president of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) which represents about 80,000 low-income residents across the country, including about 25,000 in Toronto.
“We have been working on this for 12 years and we will continue to fight until we get it,” she said.
A staff report to be debated by the city’s tenant issues subcommittee on Tuesday and licensing and standards committee on Thursday, sets out a proposed framework for a “multi-residential rental property licence,” that would give inspectors more power to crack down on bad landlords.
(An earlier suggestion to call the program “Rent Safe” was abandoned because it conflicts with a provincial program of the same name that deals with indoor environmental health hazards.)
With about half of Toronto residents living in apartments, aging buildings and ongoing issues with non-compliant landlords, “licensing of the rental housing sector presents new opportunities to ensure renters have a safe, secure and decent place to live,” the report says.
It would apply to roughly 3,300 rental apartment buildings with 10 units or more that are three storeys or higher. Condos and co-ops would be excluded.
The program, similar to the city’s DineSafe restaurant licensing system, would include annual inspections of common areas and require landlords to develop detailed plans for building maintenance, cleaning and pest control. State of good repair capital plans would also have to be developed and filed with the city.
Landlords would be required to notify tenants of service disruptions such as malfunctioning elevators and outstanding city work orders and post all notifications in a prominent area.
“The proposed licence requirements are not intended to be operationally or administratively cumbersome ... but rather it codifies existing best practices in the industry,” says the report by Mark Sraga, director of investigations.
The estimated $3.5 million cost of the program would be recovered through an annual fee of between $12 to $15 per unit, the report says.
Good landlords “have nothing to fear,” Matlow said. “This is aimed at the bad apples and I would think all landlords would want to participate in a system that improves living conditions and would want to be licensed and very proud of it.”
For ACORN member Joy Ruscitti-Hayes who has lived at Bellamy Towers in Scarborough for all but 11 years since the 17-storey highrise was built in 1954, landlord licensing can’t come soon enough.
“We are routinely ignored,” said the 62-year-old grandmother, pointing to a hallway in her 6th floor apartment where most of the wall needs new plaster and paint. “We shouldn’t have to live this way.”
Ruscitti-Hayes recently won a two-year battle with the landlord, Better Living Homes Inc., after the garbage chutes were locked for more than 17 months, forcing tenants, many of them frail seniors and disabled, to take their garbage to outside dumpsters.
In April, the provincial Landlord and Tenant Board ruled the landlord “wilfully and intentionally” failed to meet maintenance standards and caused “substantial interference” with tenants’ reasonable enjoyment of their homes. The board ordered the landlord to pay $525 in compensation to each of the 38 tenants who lodged the complaint.
The landlord’s lawyer David Ciobotaru did not return phone calls or emails from the Star on Friday or Monday.
But building superintendent Denise Murrizi said tenant work orders are handled within one to two weeks.
“Our maintenance guys take a look at them. They prioritize them based on what the issues are and they take them one at a time,” she said in an interview.
In a letter last month to the city’s licensing committee, Daryl Chong of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association said the city should forget landlord licensing and focus instead on the existing audit and enforcement program that targets problem buildings.
The Multi-Residential Apartment Buildings (MRAB) Audit and Enforcement Program, launched in 2008 after an earlier attempt to introduce landlord licensing failed, has targeted 1,046 buildings since its inception. Of 4,446 orders that were issued, just 490 were outstanding at the end of 2015, according to a staff report.
If the landlord licensing framework is approved this week and city council votes in favour in June, licensing staff will hold public consultations over the summer and prepare a draft bylaw for approval next fall. If it gets the green light, it could be in place as early as January.
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