Apartment bylaw costs borne by tenants could improve quality for all

Mar. 6, 2017

Out of the nearly 3500 apartment buildings that will be audited under the city’s new apartment bylaw, there are some buildings that fly under the radar when it comes to property standards. “We don’t know because we’re only aware of the buildings that people bring to our attention. But there’s buildings every year we come across that we look at and we say, how’s this building exist in this condition for so long and we’ve never heard of it?” said Mark Sraga, director, Investigative Services at the City of Toronto, after the Licensing and Standards Committee meeting on Monday.

“There are buildings out there that we never get to see, tenants don’t bring to our attention for various reasons, so if we’re improving the quality of their living standards, then it’s worth it,” Sraga explained.

Currently, the system is the complaint-based MRAB program. The new program is funded in part by building owners, but also by landlords (via tenants), allowing the city to expand what it does. Director of Licensing & Standards Tracey Cook said the program will cost just under $5 million, with about $1.7 million coming from the tax base, and the rest from enforcement/audit fees and unit registration fees.

“Ultimately, the tenants pick up the cost,” Cook told Signal Toronto after the meeting. “In some way, shape or form, costs flow through. The bigger issue for us was on those that are protected under the guidelines and that the number was reasonable… [we’re] trying to mitigate the impact to tenants and landlords.” Cook said the issue of rent increases is not something municipalities govern, but is an issue for the Landlord and Tenant Board.

Once the bylaw takes effect in July, building owners will have until October to pay the pre-unit registration fee. Owners who do not pay could see the amount owed added to their property tax bill.

In addition to the fees, apartment building owners and property management must provide their contact information in order to operate their building. This is a particularly significant piece for Councillor Janet Davis. “What is before us is also a registry of information and I think the consumer protection part of this bylaw is also very important…. Tenants have a right to know who is their landlord, who actually owns that numbered company, I think that it’s very important that we have that level of transparency.”

Approximately 400 apartment owners are already voluntarily audited under the Certified Rental Building Program, run by the Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario. President and CEO Jim Murphy said some of the information within their registry could be shared with the city under the right terms, and they are really after “recognition” for the certification program they’ve been running for eight years. Chair of Licensing and Standards Cesar Palacio moved a motion that a report on the Certified Rental Building Program come back in Q3 2018, including its relationship to the new bylaw.

Councillor Frank Di Giorgio said the proposed fine system veers away from the real problem. “We all know we should focus our attention on those buildings where the living standards are relatively low. That’s what we should be focusing our attention on. Only those buildings.”

Di Giorgio argued that the city will never be able to make “slum landlords” comply with regulations by going after other buildings. “It’s a very illusionary sort of solution that we’re putting in place,” he said. “That being said, I’m all for trying to provide some improvements. But you know what, improvements come at a cost, and somebody has to absorb that cost.”