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Toronto combatting bad landlords with beefed up apartment inspection rules

Toronto city council has approved a beefed up apartment inspection and enforcement program designed to improve safety and provide readily accessible online updates on building conditions across the city.

Councillors approved the new standards for RentSafeTO at a meeting late last week. The program, which began in 2017, is a bylaw enforcement system designed to ensure owners and operators of over 3,600 apartment buildings are meeting maintenance standards. The new rules include targeted engagement and inspections for non-compliant buildings and, in some instances, in-unit visits by city staff to gather resident complaints. 

The program also increases inspection fees for owners not following city rules.

“If you’re going to make money off someone else having a home, if you are going to take a profit off someone meeting one of the basic needs of life, there are conditions and rules around that,” Coun. Gord Perks said.  

City staff have been working on an update to the RentSafeTO program since 2022. The new evaluation criteria for buildings shifts the focus more heavily to health and safety. All buildings in the city will now be evaluated every two years, instead of three.  

Poor evaluations will lead to targeted enforcement

Targeted enforcement will be triggered if a landlord doesn’t address enough complaints or required work in two consecutive months. That will mean city staff will go to the building, set up an information kiosk to answer resident questions and conduct door-to-door visits to talk to tenants about “in-suite issues and complaints”. 

Owners will be charged a $2,900 fee for that outreach.

Coun. Parthi Kandavel, who represents Ward 20, Scarborough Southwest, said these new rules will help the city crack down on a small group of “bad faith” landlords. The city has 36 inspectors working on the program, but more will be needed, he said.

“Clearly, it’s not enough,” he said. “It’s a journey. It’s an ongoing work, but it’s critical that we recognize that duty of city council to acknowledge the rights of vulnerable people in our system.”

The city also now has a RentSafe interactive map that allows users to view details on any city orders or violations on a building issued since Jan. 1. Arming tenants and prospective renters with that information to make them aware of bad landlord will be key, Kandavel said.

“Part of it is changing the culture and giving those who rent greater choice in where they live,” he said. “And as a byproduct, it creates the incentives to have better living standards in health, maintenance and safety.

RentSafe also gives the city, in extreme circumstances, the ability to hire a contractor to make necessary repairs to a building where an owners has ignored an order, with costs added to the property owner’s property tax bill.

City staff say this includes cutting long grass and weeds, waste removal and graffiti removal. The changes approved by council now also give the city the ability to bill the property owner for staff time — set at $86 an hour per person — for overseeing the work on-site.

In a letter to a city committee, a group representing city apartment building owners, says the fee increase far out-paces inflation. And those costs will inevitably be passed on to renters themselves, the group said.

“Greater consideration and full justification should be required before any fee increases,” Darryl Chong, of the President & CEO Greater Toronto Apartment Association, wrote to the city’s housing committee.

“There should be some consideration of refunds or incentives for high scoring buildings.” 

Hike fines, penalties for bad landlords: tenants’ group 

The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations praised the city for the changes but also asked it to increase fines and penalties for landlords who break the rules. That would include a system that takes the penalties system out of the provincial courts and brings it inside city hall to speed up the process, the group said.

“We hope to see the introduction of administrative penalties as soon as possible,” Geordie Dent, Executive Director of Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, said in a letter.

Deputy Mayor Ausma Malik told city council that the improvements to RentSafeTO are just a start. 

“It is clear that more work needs to be done to ensure that the rules are followed, and everyone can remain safe in their homes,” she said. “The power to perform real enforcement and lay serious penalties on bad landlords who don’t follow the rules is so critical to the choices that we get to make here.”

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