Dan McIntyre Paralegal and Consulting Services
TENANT NEWS AND INFORMATIO
TENANT NEWS AND INFORMATIO
The big lie of 1998 - This was the year that rent control was limited to only sitting tenants. We were told by landlords and Government that by allowing landlords to charge new tenants what the market would bear, and allowing above guideline increases would get those landlords to "catch up" for overdue capital expenditures. These measures would encourage the new development of rental housing, they said, and a competitive market would protect tenants. Twenty years later, affordability is worse than ever and landlords use AGIs to exploit sitting tenants who have nowhere else to go. It is time to end AGIs and it is time the non profit sector was called upon to fix the failures of the private sector. But.......
The Landlords want more! - Today their lobby group is inviting tenants to support the landlord lobby! The wolf invites the sheep to support? We are seeing the perverse power of the gun lobby in the US - we need to rise up like those great students in Florida and get real rent control and real supply measures! 2.25.18
Parkdale Rent Strikes - Does this old advocate activist good to see the spirit and drive of these tenants. Finally, the issue of Above Guideline Increases is getting media attention and might lead to it becoming an election issue and some action to get rid of above guidelines. If so, credit goes to Parkdale Tenants! This is a bad law and the Ontario Government has allowed it for way too long. Change Now! 2.20.18
Standardized Lease = not as good as advertised. It is 14 pages long! What concerns me is that it sets up to making buying insurance virtually mandatory and it has a "smoking option". Landlords can impose their will on tenants. Insurance can be an extra unnecessary burden for some tenants - for some it gives comfort - my point is that it is a product that should not be forced on tenants. If landlords want you to have insurance, maybe they should buy it for you. Landlords ca use your insurance to shield themselves from liability. As a non smoker, I encourage smokers to quit - but again that is your choice and if you want to smoke in your home =puff away. 2.20.18
Not Up In Smoke - Landlord lobbyists are calling for a ban on marijuana use in apartments. They may not have noticed that marijuana is now being legalized in Canada - it was in all the newspapers. Also with Ontario going to a standardized lease (good work FMTA) it is unlikely that a lease will prohibit legal activities in one's home. Nor should it. 1.23.18
That was the year that was - 2017 was my busiest year ever. I completed 50 files, many of them involving multiple tenants - especially above guideline increases. In 20 cases satisfactory settlements were reached, 24 cases resulted in victories for the tenants, and 6 cases were unsuccessful. Not bad at all for semi-retirement. We also saw some improvements to the RTA - protecting tenants in post 1991 rentals, tightening rules around landlord's own use eviction applications, and eliminating utilities cost increases as a basis for above the guideline rent increases - but AGI for capital expenditures remain - more on that in my next post. 1.10.18
It is now 2018 and it is time to re-activate my blog. I will be posting frequently about issues and news that affect tenants. I try to write in plain language and always from the tenant point of view. Check back frequently.
To start I am dedicating my first new post to LD Blake. LD is a tenant in St. Catherines who has been putting up a heckuva fight to find justice at the LTB and the pattern of some landlords to generate above guideline increases. I know LD has been very frustrated in seeking support for the cause, but I do hope that LD will continue to be a strong voice for tenants - we need it! 1.03.18
You can start by reading my archival posts below. Most of them are still relevant today. 1.03.18
ACORN working hard for tenants - as many landlords do not work hard for tenants.Today ACORN released a report showing that too many buildings continue to fail to maintain and manage apartments, and renewed the call to get tough on landlords - preferably through licensing. I was pleased to attend the news conference with tenants from across the City. You can read the report at http://www.acorncanada.org/state-repair-tenants-case-landlord-licensing-toronto . or just google ACORN Toronto 11.01.16
The above post is dedicated to my friend Geri who told me how much she liked my blog....gotta get busy again. ooops, I did not till now
Tenants Rights Workshop - I will be giving a workshop for tenants this coming Tuesday July 19 at 7 pm at the Central Eglinton Community Centre at 160 Eglinton E. Call the Centre at 416-392-0511.
My response to the Government discussion paper on reforms favouring landlords - responsetogovernmentpaperjune2016
Feel free to write your own response, or just endorse mine. Comments can be e-mailed to [email protected]
2017 "guideline" - will be 1.5%. For many tenants that is meaningless as newer units are exempt and many tenants continue to face above the guideline increases. When will it stop? Each increase compounds on the previous ones. Meanwhile taxes on multi residential apartments are frozen, decreasing or increasing way below inflation. Call your MPP. 6.20.16
A Big Step in Right Direction - June 8, 2016 - City Council votes 33-6 to pursue landlord licensing.
Licensing Landlords - At long last Toronto City Council is taking steps towards licensing of some landlords. And of course, the landlords are reaching in to their bag of tricks to oppose it. Congratulations to ACORN for getting things this far. Before writing this, I reviewed my post from 5 years ago - it still holds up. The City licenses a variety of things in the public interest, but has been reluctant to license landlords - despite all the rent and taxes that tenants pay. The matter comes up to Council this week and landlord friendly councillors (the ones who take campaign donations from landlords)will be in opposition. Meanwhile landlords continue to enjoy tax freezes and reductions while taking at least a 2% rent increase in 2016. The scheme proposed is flawed but better than what we have now, and I spoke in favour of it at the Tenant Issues Committee.
Is licensing a tax on tenants? - NO!!!! The fee will be about $15 a year and easily absorbed within the guidelines and is not sufficient to apply or qualify for an above guideline increase.
Landlords say go after the bad apples only - ACORN spokesperson Natalie Hundt called it a bad apple orchard. Yes, the focus will be on bad landlords but the funding will come from all landlords. My question - What have the so called "good" landlords done to rid their business of the "bad" landlords? 6.06.16
TENANT ISSUES COMMITTEE - Is a sub-committee of Toronto City Council. It is meeting May 17 at 7 pm to discuss issues of interest to tenants. The meeting is in Committee Room 2 at City Hall. On this agenda is the start of a review of the Tenant Defence Fund. This important program is not performing as well as it should and there are better ways to make it work. Most unfortunate is that the Outreach and Organizing partner - the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations - seems to be doing less and less and is letting down the tenants of Toronto. I will be making extensive submissions and recommending changes. Also on the agenda is progress on the landlord licensing proposal that ACORN has being doing excellent work on, and information on property standards. The Committee can be a great instrument to achieve change and improvement for tenants - or it can be a toothless pussycat. Let us push them to be the instrument. 5.16.16
THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT IS LISTENING! - to landlords. The Government just published a paper that shows they are listening to landlords and discusses issues important to them - like making evictions easier. The good news is they have opened the door to YOUR input and MINE. Maybe they can look at rising rents, decreasing affordability, uncertain maintenance, landlord advantages at the Landlord Tenant Board and other issues that matter to you and me. Read what concerns the Government at http://www.mah.gov.on.ca/Page14836.aspx and then send them your comments to; [email protected] 5.09.16
My Comments - I will be writing soon and I will make it an open letter and hopefully on this web site.5.09.16
Follow the Money - Guess who the third largest political donor is in Ontario? It is the landlord lobby group Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario. Sometimes known as the mile high rent club. They give money to all 3 parties.5.09.16
Another Rent Increase for Ontario Tenants - Today the Ontario Government announced that landlords can take a 2% rent increase in 2016 - whether they need it or not or deserve or not. The annual guideline is based on the Ontario Rate of Inflation. Sounds fair, right? Nope. Landlords are not subject to full inflation. The building costs and financing costs are set. Municipal taxes are the biggest operating expense......and they are not going up, and often going down!
And then there is the compounding effect - every increase compounds on the last. And then the landlords run to the Landlord Tenant Board when they get around to fixing things or replacing things that wore out years ago. It is way past time for tenants to scream! 6.19.15
About Time - It is about time I stop neglecting my own web site. 2014 was a very busy year for me and my most successful on the business side. Also welcomed my 6th grandchild in April. But an alarmingly quiet year on the tenant news side. There were 2 elections where tenant issues were virtually ignored. Where were the tenant advocacy organizations? ACORN stirred it up as always. So we are stuck with ongoing above inflation increases, very little defense against bad maintenance, very little choice in the rental marketplace and all the same problems.
In fact, before posting this I reviewed all my previous posts. They are still as valid today as the day I wrote them. And so is the main fact, it will take pressure on politicians to bring about changes to make it more fair for tenants. As Smokey the Bear might say - "Only you can put out bad tenant policy". 2.16.15
Some truths about property taxes in Toronto - Tenants pay at a higher rate than homeowners (more than double) and this cost is buried and compounded in the rents. Toronto homeowners pay the lowest property taxes in the GTA - and this was the case long before Ford. Whatever the increase in homeowner taxes - taxes on rental property (more than 6 units) can only go up 1/3. In other words, if the tax increase is announced at 2.4%, your landlord will only face an 0.8% increase. This has been the case for many years and is intended to narrow the gap but comes nowhere close. It is estimated that if tenants did not subsidize homeowners, rents would be reduced by $100 a month or more, and homeowner taxes would increase by double digits. Landlords have been getting very small increases or decreases for several years, yet rent guidelines have almost every year far exceeded the tax increase. The proposed tax increase for homeowners this year amounts to an average of $5.25 a month. Tenants would jump for joy if rent increases were only that much. Cuts in land transfer taxes do not help tenants and put programs and services at risk. Tax freezes or tax cuts benefit the wealthiest the most - such as homeowners in Rosedale or Forest Hill. School taxes used to be part of the property tax bill - but are now paid for by the province. There are other ways to help low income homeowners that are much fairer than having them subsidized by low income tenants. 12.11.13
Mayor Ford and Low Income Tenants -With all the controversy surrounding our disgraced mayor, I found it offensive that low income tenants in Etobicoke were exploited on his appearance on CNN. He has done nothing for them and he has voted against every program that could help low income people in their communities. Yes, he visits there often and yes he promises action and barks at bureaucrats - but the funding for real action and repairs is not there (not his fault) and there is very little that property standards can accomplish. Recent polls show he has more support in lower income communities. It would be somewhat warranted if he ever supported anything tangible for them. 11.20.13
Twitter - I slowly move in to the modern age and I now have a twitter account #dantenantagent . However, this is for general commentary only and not for legal advice. 11.20.13
The "Balconization" of Toronto - Balconies - some people love them -some people never use them - a place to smoke, or get fresh air, or admire the view - or freeze your buns off in winter. For landlords upgrading balconies has been their prime ticket for raising rents anywhere from 2 to 5%. For a typical tenant, you can now be paying an extra $30-60 a month for a balcony - most don't use that much, particularly in winter. Most of the frequent flyers at the Landlord Tenant Board have used balconies as a way to boost rents and the building's value, and make it harder for tenants to make ends meet. This is another prime reason to get rid of above guideline increases. Call or write your MPP today. Write the Minister of Housing at 777 Bay St., Toronto 17th floor, M5G 2E5. Tell Linda Jeffries, Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horvath and Tim Hudak and your own MPP that enough is enough - ask that they work to abolish above the guideline increases. Today would be a good day to do it. 11.04.13
No end in Sight - Help Put me out of Business - Landlord Agents have told me that we can expect even more Above Guideline Applications. Landlords think that getting a compounding increase of 0.8% in 2014 is not enough! Tenants are living with wage freezes, fixed incomes and in some cases buildings that are not well maintained - but landlords want more more more! Meanwhile landlords are enjoying tax breaks, a low vacancy rate, and all the increases they have been given year after year. Only the Government of Ontario can stop this. Write the Premier, and the leaders of the opposition - at least make this an election issue. 10.16.13
Right to Housing - The FMTA is holding an event for International Tenants Day on October 23. It has to do with the international right to housing. More information at www.torontotenants.org - Not much to do with Toronto tenants and our issues - but maybe you can encourage them to get back to that. 10.16.13
No More Above the Guideline Rent Increases in Ontario! -Ontario Tenants have to make this happen. Today, I want to try to get the ball rolling. For many years, I have been working with tenants to deal with these applications. The best thing to do is to help get rid of them. In 1998, Ontario started the oxymoronic market rent control scheme. So for 15 years, landlords have been able to charge what they want for rentals. In return, they were supposed to develop a competitive market. That just hasn't happened for people of low or modest income. It is grossly unfair to pile on more rent increases. I will be updating this site more regularly with more information and opinion. You can do your part. Write to the Premier and the Leaders of the Ontario Opposition - and say you want an end to above the guideline increases. I will do my part...and look what I am doing...putting myself out of business! 8.28.13
0.8% Guideline for 2014 - Only in Ontario can a rent increase be suggested to be good news because it is lower than other rent increases. The word for the day - compounding! While tenants on fixed incomes continue to pay compounding increases, and others have seen wage freezes, and others work low paying jobs just to keep the roof over their heads - and taxes on rentals are not increasing......any rent increase is a burden on tenants. And of course, landlords keep on making those applications for above guideline increases. 6.24.13
Follow the Money -The landlord lobby group FRPO has donated $20,000 each to 4 of the Liberal leadership candidates including Sandra Pupatello, Kathleen Wynne, and my MPP Eric Hoskins. Candidates deny this influences them but FRPO doesn't give this money as charity. They don't want the changes that are necessary for tenants. And where does FRPO get their money - from our rent cheques! And the landlords write off the expense of contributing to FRPO. sigh. 1.24.13
Follow the Money, Part 2 - Last week a motion to re-instate the 2011 cut to the Tenant Defence Fund failed to pass at council. The cut of $75,000 remains. But council did pass a motion further curtailing political action from the FMTA except for issues directly related to tenants. Of course, it has been a while since any one saw any political action from FMTA. double sigh. 1.24.13
Happy New Year - A better year for tenants? - Do not count on it. But there are possibilities. If we all get political. There will soon be a new Premier in Ontario and there may be a general election this year. Change brings hope. If you are sick of rent increases year after year, or buildings that are not well maintained, or landlords who go for more rent every chance they get.....it is time to make your voice or your pen heard. As I write this, I am listening to city councillors and the Mayor portray taxpayers as unable and unwilling to pay tax increases. These councillors and the Mayor should join with us in calling for real rent control because tenants can't afford the annual compounding rent increases - with no say in how their rent payments are spent. Tenant organizations may be silent, but we don't have to be. Write or call your MPP and your City Councillors and seek their support. 1.16.13
Landlords Escape from Jumping the Gun on smart meters - A few years ago, many corporate landlords entered into agreements with an unlicensed distributor and had smart meters installed. They did so knowing that the Government was in the process of bringing in legislation to govern the installation of smart meters in rental buildings. When the Ontario Energy Board blew the whistle on this activity - no one was penalized and the tenants were caught in the middle. One brave tenant group took their landlord to the Landlord Tenant Board and to the Divisional Court. The Board decided that the tenants had implicitly agreed to pay for hydro directly, and that they had to pay the landlord for the service. Sadly, the Divisional Court upheld that decision. Now, we do have reasonable legislation concerning smart meters - but in a period of lawlessness on this matter, thousands of tenants had to go through the stress of landlords jumping the gun. We should thank those tenants who were not protected by legislation for the fact that tenants now are protected by the current legislation. 1.16.13
Back to My Web Site - After a couple months of a fairly heavy case load and a busy family life - it is about time I updated again! So lets talk about a couple of my favourite topics - rent reductions and rent increases. 12.12.12 (oh my)
Rent Reductions!? Soon, as many as 220,000 tenant households will receive notices to allow them to decrease rents on January 1. This is because property tax is decreasing in Toronto, and when the taxes decrease by 2.49% or more, you are entitled to share the savings. No landlord can legally prevent you from taking this decrease when you have received the notice from the City. A landlord can ask for the amount to be varied (a nickel and dime type application) and if successful, you may have to give a little back - but that process takes months. Take your rent reduction January 1 if you receive the letter from the City! 12.12.12
Rent Increases - Despite lower tax increases on multi residential apartments and as above, many tax decreases...landlords can take a virtually automatic rent increase of 2.5% in 2013. Because of above guideline rent increase applications, many will demand even more than that. I read today that a homeowner in an average house in Toronto can expect to pay about $48 more next year in tax ($4 a month). Some councillors are saying this will break people on fixed incomes. Tenants will face closer to $400 or more in increased rents on average. Where is the political outcry about that? The Ontario Government says we are in a time of austerity. After 30 years, I still haven't given up hope that tenants will organize effectively and start demanding regulated fair rents. And good maintenance too. 12.12.12
Issues for tenants - Affordability, Maintenance and Supply. This has not changed in my over 30 years of tenant advocacy. Current Government policies have been inadequate on all 3 fronts. Tenants need to make more noise, particularly at the Provincial level. 10.03.12
Month to Month Tenancy usually the best - no lease required - Neither a landlord nor a tenant is required to sign a lease. However, many landlords will insist you sign a lease in order to approve tenancy. At the end of that lease, you have an automatic right to become a month to month tenant. The advantages are plentiful - if something happens good or bad then you don't have to worry about a lease for a fixed term. You can vacate with 60 days notice. So, if you lose your job or you have a health crisis and you need to move - no worries. Or if you find a better place, or you get an offer in another city - again no worries about a lease. A lease can have some advantages for a tenant to protect against "no fault" eviction in a smaller building, and sometimes landlords will offer a legal incentive or rent discount if you commit to a lease. And remember the law is more important than a lease. Anything contrary to the law in a lease is unenforceable. So the fairest lease is usually no lease at all. 9.26.12
Baby its cold outside - Well not that cold yet. Just a reminder that landlords must now provide heat at 21 degrees celsius. In Toronto, if you have no heat or inadequate heat, call the landlord and if no action, call 311 in Toronto or your local municipality. 9.26.12
Small Claims Court - I have been asked if I do small claims court cases. The answer is that I will, but I have not done any yet. There can be occasions when a tenant might be better off taking their claim to small claims. The principles of small claims are similar and there is a mix of formality and informality. I did represent the FMTA once at small claims to deal with a nuisance suit (case dismissed with costs). Anyway, I would be happy to talk to any one with a small claims court case to see if I can help - for a reasonable fee of course. 9.20.12
International Tenants Day and the Tenant Summit - Is coming up September 29. International Tenants Day has been around for a long time. I "invented" the tenant summit when I was with FMTA as an opportunity for tenant leaders from around the City to get together to discuss common issues and strategies. Now the FMTA only plays a part role, and this year they will emphasizing the mysterious fair lease. For more information, go to the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations web site. 9.20.12
Blowing My Own Horn - I got a beautiful e-mail from a client group yesterday and permission to quote it here. "Thank you very much for representing all the tenants at our building. The hearing was often overwhelming but Dan, you handled every situation with assertiveness and detail - it is obvious that you did a lot of legal research - we give you credit for keeping your composure and making every point with such tact and to the point - you are amazing Dan and we thank you from the bottom of our heart. The landlord had a lawyer, a paralegal and all their senior management to challenge us - and you were never once intimidated - we could not have done this without you". This letter made my day, and now back to being modest. 9.13.12
Tenant Applications - Lately I have been doing a few multi tenant applications about maintenance or other issues that tenants have. More of these cases need to be brought forward. However, unlike landlord applications, these cases are rarely easy or economical. Over 90% of applications made to the Board are made by landlords (evictions and rent increases and even disputing tax decrease cases). Tenant cases take hours and are met with heavy resistance and legal tactics and issues to make it more difficult to proceed in an expeditious manner. Unless ways are found to make these cases more efficient and economical, landlords will not be held to account on issues of maintenance - especially when they continue to charge maximum rents. 9.13.12
Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation - This is an excellent organization dedicated to fighting against discrimination in housing. It has been around for about 30 years and has helped many people who have been victimized by discrimination. Despite the human rights code, some landlords still discriminate because of race, origin, religion, sexual orientation and source of income. One of the best tenant advocates, Victoria Natola, has now started to work there with my old friend John Fraser. Keep up the good fight John and Vic.
Media Coverage of Bad Tenants - Recent stories of a notorious bad tenant can leave the impression that tenants run roughshod over naive landlords. I have no problem with a factual story being presented, but some care must be taken to understand that these are exceptions and not the rule. It would help if these stories had a balance quote from tenant advocates. There is a letter to the editor in the Star today that does give some balance. Of course, it would help if a city wide tenant organization would speak out more often. 9.04.12
Smoking in Rental Units - With all the information and news about second hand smoke, some people would like to see smoking banned in apartment buildings. The goal is commendable, but the fact is that tenants can do lawful things in their apartments and smoking is legal. However, smoking is not permitted or tolerated in common areas. The issue can be tested in situations where the landlord and the tenant are living in the same place and there has been a clear ban on smoking placed in the tenancy agreement. There has been discussion about building apartments that are designated smoke free. Interesting idea but enforcement would still be an issue. Another idea was to do what hotels do and have smoking and non smoking floors or wings. In any event, as a non smoker I would prefer less people smoke at all - but as a tenant advocate, I support an individuals' right to do as they please (legally) in their own home. 8.16.12
World's Worst Tenants - Its an American tv show. Channel 279 on Rogers, Tuesday evenings. I have found myself watching it - vicariously - sometimes. Mainly about drug dealers, and prostitutes, and sweat shop owners taking over units to run wild parties and illicit businesses. And such cruelty and exploitation of animals. Personally, I represent the best tenants - but this show can be kind of funny (unless you are the landlord) and the eviction enforcers are an interesting group (albeit quite rough). Coming soon - World's Worst Landlords ---naaaa. 8.16.12
Standardized Lease for Ontario? - According to a Toronto Star article, the FMTA is producing a standardized lease for Ontario. This is not a good idea. The best "lease" is no lease at all. Tenancies in Ontario are governed by the Residential Tenancies Act. Leases lock in tenants for a period of time. Anything contrary to the law is unenforceable. Further, if this issue is the issue for the Federation, then it distracts from the issues that most tenants are concerned about - maintenance and rents. All we don't need is the Government working on a standardized lease issue while rents continue to go up with high guidelines and generous rules for above guideline increases, and landlords who neglect their buildings (and tenants) go on collecting full rents. Landlords are supposed to give new tenants a government approved information brochure about rights and responsibilities (do they?). I would have liked to read this lease, but unfortunately could not find it on the FMTA web site. 8.08.12
What is on the Web? - Many people and organizations use the web effectively to get information and their message out to the public. All we have to do is google and we can learn about paralegals, the Law Society, the Landlord Tenant Board, how to referee soccer games (maybe not) and just about anything under the Sun including the Sun. Sadly, though, malcontents also use the web to spread disinformation, lies and deceit. For most of us, these are easy to spot. For example, there is a well known malcontent (I could use stronger language) who was kicked out of several organizations for boorish behaviour and now uses his ample spare time to attack any one who ever affiliated with those organizations - and that includes me. He is judgment proof as he is unemployable so libel suits are a waste of time. If any one sees this junk about me, and has any concerns, just let me know - or better yet, ignore it. 8.08.12
Paralegal Society of Ontario - I am the newest member of this organization (oldtimers insert famous Groucho Marx joke here). It is an organization dealing with the issues of paralegals, and there are certainly many. Three issues that concern me and the PSO are; 1. Clients who qualify for a legal aid certificate can't use a paralegal - even if the paralegal is the one they want or the one who referred them to legal aid. 2. A paralegal can represent a client in a lower court such as the Landlord Tenant Board, and even if we win..if the matter goes to a higher court, we can't represent our own clients. 3. There are many areas of law that we are barred from helping our clients e.g a simple will
Anyway, I was impressed with their web site and the remarks from the last Annual General Meeting. www.paralegalsociety.on.ca 7.26.12
Throw them all out!? - Reaction to the latest dreadful gun violence has included the short sighted view that evicting people with guns or criminal records post haste will cure the problem. And the problem does need a cure. Personally,I think it is the guns that need to be evicted from Canada. If someone has been convicted of a crime and served whatever punishment that our legal system imposes - and then once free, they are denied housing (and jobs for that matter) - we are just asking for those people to commit more crime as they cant work and they will need to shack up somewhere. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Yes, I support social programs (calling them hug a thug is despicable) and I support gun control. Overall, we need a balanced thoughtful approach and yes we need to protect the innocent. 7.26.12
Summer time and the living is not always easy - The City of Toronto is being asked to consider changes to the heat by-law. Currently, there is no law about maximum heat. Summers are generally getting warmer and the population is aging. Many people can't tolerate high heat - but can't afford an air conditioner or their landlord discourages the installation of same. In older buildings the heating system can be inefficient and be beyond tenant control and so units get overheated in the winter. Experts say that high heat is more dangerous to human well being than extreme cold. A few years ago, I served with Mayor Miller's roundtable on seniors housing and this issue was well addressed - now maybe some action. The discussion also focuses on the need to have a specific turn on the heat date (September 15) when many times there is no need until October. Councillors Matlow and Parker are bringing this item forward and it is certainly worth discussion. 7.11.12
Any Requests? - I usually try to think of one or two items to update my web site on most Wednesdays. If there is something you would like me to comment on, just drop me an e-mail [email protected] . Please note that I can't comment on specific cases and I won't give specific legal advice. But if there is an issue that concerns you, let me know. 7.11.12
Why Above Guideline Increases are Too High -
1. The tenant is required to pay 100% of the costs of capital items despite the benefits to landlords of protecting their asset.
2, The system ignores the generosities and build up of guideline increases. For 18 years, landlords were allowed an extra 2% some or all of which was supposed to be used for capital items.
3. The system ignores items that have been allowed in the past and now have been paid in full - but are still in the rent and compounding.
4. The useful life schedule ignores the useful life of original assets. For example, the original elevator may have lasted 35 years..but the guideline is much less than that.
5. The cost may have been caused by neglect.
6. An item like energy saving windows will save a landlord money over time, but that is not taken into account.
7. The tenants were given no say in the expenditure and usually not even consulted - but ultimately have to pay for it.
8. The Act does not take into account the tenant's ability to pay.
9. Landlords are not required to maintain a capital reserve fund. Condominiums and Co-ops must keep such a reserve.
10. The Board does not take into account the overall maintenance of the building.
11. There are many technical flaws in the calculation system, particularly for claims for extraordinary increases in utilities or taxes.
Why the Ontario Rent Guideline is too high - It is determined by the Ontario rate of inflation. Sounds fair, right? Wrong. The roi takes into account all sorts of things that have nothing to do with rental housing - travel, auto, clothing, groceries, furniture, health care (non OHIP), recreation, entertainment...etc. The biggest single expense for rental property is property tax. Taxes in Toronto and other Cities have been virtually frozen for years for multi residential. Wages have not kept pace, that means your income but also the wages paid to landlord staff have not exceeded inflation. But just as important is that the original cost of your apartment has not changed. You do not get a new apartment every year, you get the same one. Most apartments were built in the fifties and sixties at the cost of the times. So the cost of the product is not subject to inflation - only the costs of operating and that is less than half of average rents. Take an apartment renting for $1000 a month. Operating costs will be less than $500 (source..Ministry of Housing statistics and 30 years of experience and knowledge). If the real rate of inflation is 2%, the operating costs will be less than $510 per month. To recover the extra $10, the landlord only needs a 1% increase on the rent revenue. Anything over that is gravy (stop the gravy train!).
Landlords have been increasing operating profits year over year (with a part exception being 2011) without doing anything other than maintaining the status quo! And those landlords who short change on maintenance do even better. A Government that preaches austerity, that is freezing their employee's wages, and grudgingly only increasing benefits to the lowest income Ontarions by 1% - should not be rubber stamping rent increases of 3.1% in 2012, and 2.5% in 2013. But what about major capital costs to replace elevators or roofs or windows? Then the landlord can apply for even more - and don't forget vacancy de-control. 6.27.12
What guideline would be fair? - For many years, the Government maintained an index that only dealt with rental housing....maintenance, taxes, utilities, management costs, and insurance. Landlord lobbyists encouraged the change to CPI because they bet that tax increases would be less than CPI. As argued above, landlords do not need 100% of inflation. I would use the former rental housing index, and the guideline would be 60% of that index. This would allow landlords to recover legitimate cost increases, and allow a cushion of over 10% which would increase profit slightly...but not as much as now. That would likely have resulted in a guideline for 2013 of about 1.1%. Much closer to the reality of landlords and tenants. Next week, I will discuss the over generosities of above guideline allowances. 6.27.12
Rent Increase Guideline for 2013 - 2.5% - Tenants will face another tough year as guideline rent increases will far outstrip income increases...and this in times of "austerity". Soon, I will make some comments on what a fair guideline would be. The announcement today is bad news, so it was released on a hot end of the week friday. Maybe we do need an election. More to come. 6.22.13
Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) - This group has disbanded after many years of exposing the issues of homelessness and putting faces to the homeless, and also recognizing the men and women who died for lack of affordable housing. They got homelessness declared a national disaster - but yet it is still with us - while TDRC is not. However, TDRC can take great pride in their work - things are somewhat better (even without a National Affordable Housing strategy - Canada is the largest country in the world without one) and their bold advocacy has been a great example to us all. 6.20.12
Exciting News from FMTA! - The FMTA announced that their Tenant Survival Manual is now available in Hungarian. The TSM was a product of former employees and is a good online resource for tenants - although now about 5 years since it was updated. I regularly check the FMTA web site as they should be updating their news section regularly and promoting the Tenants Unite discussion board. Any way, I wish them the best for their upcoming AGM. As my membership has lapsed, I won't be attending. Tenants need an active visible organization advocating for them as much as ever. 6.20.12
A Little Good News about Bill 19 - The Bill is expected to pass this week in time for calculating the 2013 guideline. It is being amended to eliminate the "floor" which said that landlords would get 1% - even if there was no inflation. Scuttlebutt is that the 2013 guideline will be at or near the new maximum of 2.5%. As this seems to be the most active web site for tenants..I will publish the new guideline as soon as it is announced. 6.13.12
Time to Get Active Again on this site - My faithful readers (cough) have been wondering. Since I last updated - I have had a very busy schedule and some interesting cases. I also took time off to get rid of my hernia problem (and now I just have a scar on my tummy - and also time to get back to my regular workouts). A difficulty I have is that I am quite restricted on what I can say about my case work. Paralegal rules do not allow for public criticism of adjudicators - so I also don't want to publicly praise either when they get it right. There are also confidentiality rules - and even if I don't mention names, the cases will be transparent to some. And oh yes, I learned I am going to be a grampa again in the fall! 6.13.12
Death, Taxes and Rent Increases - The only 3 sure things in life in Ontario. In fact, the Ontario Government has just guaranteed landlords a minimum increase of 1% - even if costs and inflation go down! If inflation is higher, they can get up to 2.5% automatic, and they can apply for even more if they finally get around to doing necessary capital work. Can these increases be sustained? I think the bubble may burst soon as tenant incomes continue to lag, and young people and seniors choose not to enter the rental market. Will landlords then choose to evict by the numbers, or actually lower rents? My sense is that the corporate landlords are trying to get every penny they can get now, to brace for a future bubble burst. Interestingly, it was landlords who insisted that the market would protect tenants. Fourteen years later, rents are still rising! 4.25.12
Taxes - Got to send in my return and pay my taxes on my modest profit of 2011. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society - although sometimes I wonder. 4.25.12
A Time for tenants to get angry and passionate - The debate continues on Bill 19, a very minor bill that will only help tenants if the guideline otherwise would again be above 2.5% in 2013 or the future. Meanwhile, landlords continue to get away with high rent increases through the guideline and above guideline, and to get away with sub standard maintenance. A major overhaul is needed as the promise of the current Government was not met with the current Act. This can only happen if every individual tenant takes the time and responsibility to contact their Provincial Member of Parliament and the Minister of Housing and the Premier. You can only hope that the FMTA gets active and passionate like they once were..but you can count on yourself. 4.18.12
Maybe Joe Fiorito can do it - kudos to Joe for exposing what some landlords put tenants through. See his article in today's Star, and the one on Monday the 16th as well. Since Charles Dickens isn't alive to talk about the horrible conditions some people in our society live in, we need more Joes to take up the fight. Joe is angry and passionate, and he has a column to express that.4.18.12
Sometimes I like Landlords - Landlords provide housing for tenants - as our Governments fail to provide enough affordable housing. Small landlords are often the best when they understand that it is a business- but it is also about people's homes. I like landlords who understand the rent is to pay for maintenance and upkeep. I like landlords who have a good working knowledge of the law and follow it. I like landlords who respect human rights and don't consider their customers as cash cows. I like landlords who keep good records. I like landlords who understand that there are other circumstances in the lives of their tenants. I like landlords who you can talk to and rely on their word. 4.11.12
Sometimes I don't like Landlords - Landlords who are openly avaricious and exploit their tenants - often with the support of the powers that be. Landlords who don't care about tough times for lower income people or seniors living on fixed incomes. Landlords who are downright nasty and only like tenants on the first of the month. Landlords who disparage folks on social assistance. Landlords who openly dis human rights and discriminate. Landlords who ignore maintenance and expect tenants to put up with it. Landlords that flaunt the law, not respect it. Landlords who take the "lord" part of landlord and consider themselves to be the tenant's lord. Landlords who think tenant advocates are bad people, but gladly use the services of landlord advocates. 4.11.12
Bill 19 proceeding -This week was second reading of this bill which will limit the annual guideline to be no higher than 2.5% starting in 2013, but no lower than 1%. That's right, the Government that has brought in an austerity budget...says that landlords will always be entitled to more rent. I caught some of the debate and both opposition critics went to the same point as I have been making that this is minor tinkering when a major overhaul is needed. I urge tenants to call their MPPs and put an end to high, continuing and compounding rent increases - while landlords get away with maintenance inadequacies, and not enough affordable housing is being built. 4.04.12
Ward 22 Community Meeting for Tenants - I recently attended a community meeting held by Councillor Josh Matlow on tenant issues. I saw a lot of familiar faces and a few of my clients there. Josh had an array of guests to answer questions. Kenn Hale of ACTO gave an overview of the ongoing situation for tenants and affordable housing. Unfortunately, there was no expertise on Above Guideline issues on the panel and a couple of good questions went unanswered. As I was just an attendee, I was not able to answer the questions. Still it was good that the Councillor held such a meeting - but the local MPP (and all MPPs) still needs to get more involved and understand the imbalance in favour of large corporate landlords at the Landlord Tenant Board and in the Residential Tenancies Act. 4.04.12
Austerity? - Whether you agree or not with the Ontario budget unveiled yesterday, it is time for the Government to overhaul the rent increase system. Low and middle income people are being hit with rent increases much higher than inflation. Ironically, yesterday I represented a group that learned that they are going to have pay a 5% increase this year, compounded on all the previous increases. Yes, it was less than what the landlord wanted. And they live in the riding of a cabinet minister. It is time for change and tenants should be calling their MPPs. If you are going to freeze everything else -FREEZE RENTS. They said everybody has to do their bit..how about landlords? 3.28.12
Can a landlord withhold maintenance? - Last week I discussed that under some circumstances that tenants can withhold rents. The risk is an eviction application (which can be defended) and if you lose, you will have to pay up and a $170 filing fee. The landlord can start an eviction process right away. What is the risk of a landlord withholding maintenance? And some do. Well, eventually you might get a property standard order issued against them and maybe the City will enforce it. And if you have the wherewithal to go through the hoops at the Landlord Tenant Board, you might get a rent abatement or freeze. But it is catch the (bad) landlord if you can. And all the onus is on the tenant. Section 20 of the Act says that the landlord must maintain the rented premises in a good state of repair. And yet some of these landlords expect that you should pay the rent even if they do not fulfill their obligation. The system is not right for tenants! 3.28.12
Don't Pay Your Rent? - Many people say that you should never hold back your rent - and these people include some who are on the tenant side. In fact, the Residential Tenancies Act does not say you cannot withhold rent. I say you should never withhold rent without getting some advice and carefully considering your options. Should you pay rent on an uninhabitable apartment? What if the landlord is ignoring your work order requests? Are you prepared to pay a potential cost of $170 if the landlord takes you to the Landlord Tenant Board? Are you prepared to pay the rent into the Landlord Tenant Board? Have you documented the issues that may cause you to withhold all or part of your rent? Is the landlord trying to get you pay for something contrary to the Act? For people who say that you can never withhold your payment - you are being told that you can never play a card that may be the most effective. It is like telling a labour union that they should never go on strike. As my next post will show, a lot of tenants are living with a lot of things wrong with their apartments. 3.21.12
Update on Property Standard Audits - I am pleased to see that the City of Toronto is continuing its building audit program. Here are the most recent statistics as of March 12. In 2012, they have audited 32 (637 aggregate) buildings, issued 68 Orders (3080), 65 Orders are still outstanding (1326), found 1370 (36544) deficiencies, of which 1352 (14806) are still outstanding, there have been no prosecutions to date but 164 have been initiated since the start of the program.
Visit the web site for more information including updates on the buildings audited, www.toronto.ca/licensing/mrab.htm
Women Tenants - Last week marked International Womens Day. Did you know that more tenants are women than men? There are a lot of reasons for this. Most of my clients are women, and most of the leaders in the various buildings I have worked with and represented are women. I would love to name them all but that violates my confidentiality rules. But I can thank them - they know who they are - and they offer the best hope for meaningful change in the times ahead. And we certainly need meaningful change. Thank you! 3.14.12
Taking Credit When it is not Due - No one should ever praise themselves for something they did not do - or accept undeserved praise (or blame for that matter). I regularly check on a web site that is run by the city wide tenant organization. I was disappointed to see them taking credit for exposing bad landlords, particularly the recent MarketPlace show. The credit goes to those tenants who contacted MarketPlace and appeared on the show. The Producers did talk to a number of people, including me, but that does not mean that is who exposed the bad landlords. They also take credit for the work of the Vulnerable Energy Consumers Coalition which works regularly on energy issues. About ten years ago, I recommended joining that coalition in the best interests of tenants - but the work is done by them. 3.14.12
Back to Updating - Due to increased business, a short great vacation with my daughters to Las Vegas (I won the trip), a plan to re-vamp the web site, and occasional bouts with laziness - I haven't been updating my news for a while. Of course, I provide this as a free service to any one who wishes to read and especially my clients - and in the absence of funded organizations doing anything similar - I need to get back to this! 3.07.12
Signing Your Own Eviction papers - An issue I was somewhat aware of before is a danger inherent in mediated agreements when a tenant falls behind in the rent. Lately, I have become alarmed. Faced with a possible eviction, unrepresented tenants will sign an agreement to re-pay arrears over a period of time. Sounds good, right? But what if the re-payment plan is unrealistic. And what if you are a little short or a little late? If so, the landlord can apply -WITHOUT NOTICE TO YOU - for an immediate eviction! And they get it. Now as a responsible advocate, I advise tenants to pay the lawful rent on time. But as a reasonable person, I also know that circumstances can change - or money you are counting on can be late or lost - you need to be able to keep a roof over your head. Tenants should build some reasonable flexibility into these agreements - and if you know you can't reasonably make the monthly payments suggested by the landlord say so - because you may as well go before an adjudicator than sign such an agreement which virtually guarantees you will get an eviction order eventually. Many landlords can be reasonable if you are honest about your circumstances and a deal can be more fairly structured. Duty Counsel should be able to give you some assistance. Recently, I saw a young mother with another child on the way face eviction because after a little Christmas spending, she was a few days late with her January payment. The landlord was being heartless and got the Board to issue (without notice - ex parte) an eviction order - the tenant was asking the Board to re-consider. Is Ontario heartless? The adjudicator reserved decision so I don't know how it turned out. 3.07.12
Leases - Leases are written by landlords and for landlords. Fortunately, the law overrides leases, so no clauses that are unlawful (eg. no pets) can be enforced. Leases lock tenants in for a period of time, and set starting rents and what is and isn't included in the rent. Rent increases are then regulated (at least for buildings built prior to 1991). A lease is not legally required to form or keep a tenancy agreement - but practically speaking a landlord will often want a lease to grant tenancy at the beginning. At the end of a lease, tenants have an automatic right to become a monthly tenant. Everything stays the same...but if for any reason the tenant wants or needs to move out, only a 60 day notice is required and there are no worries about assigning or subletting, or being stuck with the rent for the balance of the lease. Recently, I heard some chatter about a standardized lease to be approved by the Government. Not a bad idea - but hardly a priority with diminishing affordable housing because of unfair and unnecessary rent increases, and woefully inadequate remedies against substandard maintenance such as that exposed recently on CBC marketplace. 1.25.12
Improvements to web site coming - I finally retained some one who will be giving this site an overhaul in February or March. Need some pictures taken. Stay tuned (what does tuned mean?). 1.25.12
CBC Marketplace, Friday at 8 - Tenants should watch a special feature on Transglobe. This group took over hundreds of buildings in Ontario and they have more than a few dissatisfied tenants. I am not on the show, but I provided CBC with lots of information on tenancy issues and laws in Ontario. I understand that you can also watch afterwards by going to the CBC web site. 1.19.12
Smart meters burn out - Before the Government brought in new legislation, and notwithstanding the Electricity Act, several landlords started installing smart meters, and getting tenants to sign on. A decision by the Ontario Energy Board in August of 2009 made it clear this activity was unauthorized. In 2010, I helped a group of tenants file an application with the Landlord Tenant Board based on the landlord's actions after the decision, and seeking justice for tenants caught in the middle of the scheme. Sadly, the Board recently ruled in such a way as to not hold the landlord accountable for their actions, and that tenants had an implied agreement to pay hydro to the landlord. But, our friends at ACTO are appealing this decision to the Divisional Court. So far neither the OEB or the LTB has done anything to support the tenants and sanction the "jumping the gun" of landlords. Hopefully, the Court will see the proper application of the law and protect tenants - not landlords who engaged in unauthorized activity. 1.18.12
FMTA enters the 20th century - Tenants can now support the FMTA and use their credit card to do so. I suggested this 12 years ago when I started there, but these things apparently take time. I will be sending in my donation just as soon as I see the FMTA advocating for tenants as set out in their mission statement. To make your donation visit their web site at www.torontotenants.org 1.18.12
Damages to your apartment? - Sometimes things go wrong such as plumbing and significant damages can occur in your apartment. Are you responsible? Maybe, but your landlord can't be judge and jury. The law holds tenants accountable for damages caused by their own willful conduct or negligence. Negligence can be briefly defined as reasonable care. Sometimes landlords will tell a tenant that the tenant has to pay for these damages and this is why they have to have insurance. Not quite. In the last year, I have successfully represented 4 clients against these kinds of claims. In 3 of them the tenant was not required to pay anything at all, and the other case settled well below the amount originally claimed. Even if you have insurance, get legal advice before agreeing to take care of the damages. The landlord is not always right! 1.11.12
Paralegal Review - It has now been five years since new legislation brought paralegals under the licensing provisions of the Law Society. The Law Society is holding a mandatory review at this point, and the public can send any comments they have to the Law Society, prior to January 31. Details are on the web site of the Law Society of Upper Canada. 1.11.12
Happy New Year - Despite some early good news for many tenants that they are entitled by law to a rent reduction effective for the January rent payment, this year could be very tough for many. A 3.1% guideline at a time when incomes are stagnant or being reduced is the first blow. Tenant services being cut at the City, along with services for the most vulnerable. Government cutbacks in staff will place many in more difficult situations (these folks have to pay the rent too). The sleepy approach to poverty reduction at the Province and the lack of commitment to new affordable housing, are also negatives. And the lack of energy from certain tenant organizations doesn't help either. But look at the bright side - CEOs are doing quite well and will continue to get nice tax breaks. 1.04.12
Some resolutions and hopes - That the Province under my friend the Minister, will initiate a comprehensive review of the first 5 years of their legislation and make the necessary changes to ensure reasonable affordability and decent standards of maintenance for all. That succeeding on Above Guideline Increase applications becomes more difficult, and that succeeding on maintenance applications becomes more likely. I will donate my time for those purposes. That every tenant takes the automatic rent reduction that they are entitled to, and either the City or the Province audits to ensure that landlords are not keeping their tax savings all to themselves. That the City continue its Multi Residential Audit program. That Legal Aid expands its ridiculously low income criteria, and that they start working with experienced paralegals and not just lawyers. That certain tenant organizations become the forceful voice for change that they are supposed to be and used to be. That ACORN continues to raise hell here and there, by demonstrating the issues important to low income people. And that Ontario as a whole returns to being the caring progressive Province that it once was. 1.04.12
Solving the City's Budget problem - The mean spirited slashing budget proposals are totally unnecessary, and can be easily fixed. Did you know that the tax increase for business and for rental buildings of more than 6 units, is only going up 0.83% and not the 2.5% announced as the tax hike. This is because of a city policy and goal to bring the tax rate closer to that of homeowners (who we have been subsidizing for decades) and it is a worthwhile policy for that reason. But if we suspend that policy for one year, and add another 1% increase, that would bring in millions. Surely, the downtown office towers, the huge shopping malls, the retailers on Yonge Street, and yes landlords can absorb an increase that will still be less than inflation. We don't have to solve the problem by reducing services to children. 12.15.11
Taxes are Actually Going Down for corporate landlords - Over 100,000 tenant households in Toronto are about to get a letter telling them that the building taxes have gone down by 2.5% or more. This means that those tenants are entitled to an automatic rent reduction starting on the next rent payment. TAKE IT! Even if your landlord tells you not to or that they are appealing, it is yours! If a landlord appeals, it might mean a minor adjustment down the road, and you can settle then. I was appalled that many of my clients received letters from landlords telling them not to take it last year. They have enjoyed the savings (due to re-assessments of apartment buildings) and must pass on your share. Municipal taxes are about 17% of the rent that you pay. The landlord is the tax collector for municipal services. If they have collected too much, you deserve a refund!
Is that All? - Yesterday's announcement to stabilize the guideline starting in 2013 can be taken to mean that there are only 3 sure things in life in Ontario. Death, taxes and rent increases. For people on fixed incomes, or suffering in tough economic times more must be done. It is far too easy for landlords to get rent increases, from the guideline - from applications for above guideline - and from vacancy de-control. The announcement fulfills a small campaign promise to avoid another whopping 3.1% guideline - but also listened to the landlord whining about 0.7% in 2011. We still need more affordable non profit housing, a removal of the HST, better protection against landlords who do not maintain the premises, and a thorough review of the RTA after 5 years of implementation (January 31, 2012) as it has not lived up to its hype. And we need strong tenant advocates - because we know the landlords have them. Where are you FMTA and ACTO? If you need help, just call me. Meanwhile, I do expect more from this Minister and this Government. 12.07.11
Rent Guideline Stabilization - Today, the Ontario Government announced that they will amend the rent control guideline starting in 2013 so that the guideline will never be higher than 2.5% and never lower than 1%. I will comment more on my next update. 12.06.11
Thirty years and Counting! - Today marks 30 years that I have been involved in tenant issues. I went to my first tenant meeting December 1, 1981 and soon after became heavily involved. I had two small children at the time, and I now have 3 great adult children and their spouses and my grandkids. I have taken great pride in my work and I know I have helped thousands of folks in dealing with their issues with landlords. I have also advised Ministers MPPs and City Councillors, and my fingerprints are on some elements of rent regulation (certainly not all). Of course, there have also been disappointments largely due to the immense corporate power of landlords, some people in Government, and lately a certain tenant organization that has lost its way and failed to be the important organization it should be. But I feel confident that I have made Ottawa and Toronto better places for tenants....and I still feel young and strong...so I am going to shoot for 40 years! 12.01.11
Back to the present- I went to a great dinner on Sunday night. The Thornecliff Tenant Association honoured their MPP and now Housing Minister, Kathleen Wynne. There were hundreds of tenants there, and the Halal food was great. Kathleen gave a great speech - she is one of the good ones - and offered hope for positive change. Also had the pleasure of sitting beside former City Councillor, Jane Pitfield - one of the nicest people in politics. Thanks to the Thornecliff Tenant Association for inviting me. 12.01.11
ACTO is ten years old - The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario is celebrating 10 years of service to the tenant community. ACTO has taken on many important cases and causes in the appellate court and in the public realm. For example, they have done excellent work on the issue of smart meters. ACTO is funded by Legal Aid and operates the duty counsel program at the Landlord Tenant Board. There is still a lot of work to do particularly in the area of law reform as the Residential Tenancies Act needs improvements, particularly in the areas of maintenance and affordability. Learn more at their web site www.acto.ca 11.16.11
Occupying Toronto - I think it is great that the issues of homelessness, economic disparity, student debt, unemployment and others have been highlighted by the occupy movement. I think it is sad that the mayor of Toronto has not visited the folks at St. James park, and tried the usual tactic yesterday. It will be interesting to see what the courts have to say later this week. The majority of the occupiers hold jobs or go to school. Many others have chronic issues. It is sad to see the personal attacks on people who give a damn about the 99%. As one of the 99%, I say thank you to the occupiers and peace to all. And I hope the Toronto police will not repeat the fiasco they caused at the G20 - and so far, so good. 11.16.11
Landlord Licensing - Has the Time Come or Gone? - For almost 30 years, I have advocated for licensing of landlords - and it certainly has been an even hotter topic in the 12 years I have been in Toronto. It seems crazy that I can't buy a hot dog or a house or a haircut or a taxi ride or a massage or a restaurant meal or drink from some one who doesn't have a license, but I can spend thousands of dollars annually with an unlicensed landlord. I also can't drive a car or be a paralegal in Ontario without a license.
In Toronto, rooming houses are licensed and now some cities in Ontario are moving to license smaller apartments. These licensing schemes are more in response to not in my back yard and neighbourhod issues than protecting tenants. That is not what I advocate.
A licensing scheme would be low cost - $24 a year per unit- and would start with multi-residential (profit or non profit). In Toronto, this would bring in about $10 million a year. This money would be used to hire more inspectors to ensure that housing is safe - and to really get after those landlords who take our money, but do not keep the units to a minimum standard (see my comments on the City blitz program where they find an average of more than 50 deficiencies in common areas alone - and to this point they have only inspected about 10% of buildings.). The money could also be used for landlord and tenant education to provide a better environment for the consumers and the providers. And yes, some would be used to take miscreant landlords to the Landlord Tenant Board to seek abatements of rent.
Eventually, licensing would spread to landlords who have 3 or more units. The "moms and pops" who provide second suite type of housing would be exempted - but is it too much to ask that if some one is going to collect rent that we ensure that they at least know the basics of the law, and that their tenants are provided with an information pamphlet as required by section 8 of the RTA?
If a landlord loses their license (I would grandfather everyone in), then they must turn over the management of the building to a licensed manager or some sort of public trustee. And among the compelling reasons for landlord licensing - is it seems to scare the heck out of many landlord activists.
There are many methods of how and when license fees would be collected, but governments have always found ways to collect money - sometimes for non worthy reasons. Protecting tenants from non compliant landlords is a worthy reason.
But alas, in the current political climate at City Hall, and the silence of certain tenant organizations - the issue is not likely to rise in the near future...and tenants will remain vulnerable. Somewhere on the FMTA web site www.torontotenants.org is a fuller proposal that I and another former employee put together a few years ago. I also know ACORN remains committed to this issue. Who knows - maybe some day ......11.09.11
Change at Municipal Licensing and Standards - The Executive Director, Jim Hart has been promoted within the City and is now at Parks and Recreation. Jim spearheaded the "blitz" program which has turned up thousands of deficiencies in the buildings that we pay for in our rent. I have had many good discussions with Jim, and I wish him well in his new duties. Hopefully, his replacement will continue the work and bring negligent landlords to justice. 11.02.11
Broken Deal Has to be Fixed - For many years landlord activists sang the same tune. Loosen rent controls and we will build new rentals and there will be a competitive market place. Well they got what they wanted, but have not delivered on the market place. We now have 20 year old buildings that are fully exempt from rent regulation - but not that many because they haven't been building. It is time to provide better protection for tenants with some much needed amendments to the legislation. Let us hope we will start getting some real action from tenant organizations. I will do my part. 11.02.11
A Parable of 2 Landlords - Brown and Green - they both bought apartment buildings, same size, same rents, same taxes. Green did everything to increase re-cycling in his building working with the tenants - Brown did nothing. Then the City started charging at cost for garbage pick up. Green got a modest bill. Brown got a whopping bill. Brown blasted the City and threatened to sue. But then he went to the Landlord Tenant Board - make my tenants pay. So now Brown gets higher rents than Green - and later the City lowers the rates, and the rents stay the same. Does that sound right to you? Is that the way it is? It is happening and we are trying to stop it. 10.26.11
Another Parable - F and P - They both own similar apartment buildings. The City lowers the taxes on both buildings. For F, taxes are only 15% of the rent, while for P taxes are 20% of the rent. The tenants are given notices of the tax reductions and given an automatic rent decrease. Who can get this decrease reduced by applying for a variance? F. So now F is in an even better position than P than before. That aint right - but all sorts of F applications are being made to the Landlord Tenant Board. 10.26.11
Kathleen Wynne - Minister of Housing - It is being announced today that she will be the new Minister of Housing. This could be a big break for tenants. I have talked with her many times (in fact I briefed her prior to her first being elected) and I have seen her at many tenant meetings in her riding. She fought for improvements to tenant legislation - and I think she knows there is more work to do - because tenants are still facing big increases, and are still not always getting the maintenance that they pay for. And there isn't enough affordable housing. This is the best friend tenants have had in that chair since 1995. I will do what I can to help influence change. Change does take time, but we must start now. Congratulations Kathleen! 10.20.11
Guideline adjustment - Tenants I talk with our incredulous that with everyone and everything else not going up that landlords can get an automatic 3.1% increase in 2012! Former Minister Bertolucci promised action...and lets hope that there is a follow through. It will take an amendment to legislation. It will also help a great deal to take the HST off heat and hydro. 10.20.11
Election Aftermaths - So they held an election and most people stayed home. My educated guess is that tenants in particular did not vote much, and don't forget the turnout number is based on voting lists that omit many tenants. And pontificating about civic duty aside - tenants did not have much reason to vote. Organizations failed to make tenant issues count. Why are rent increases continuing - when maintenance isn't any better and despite the promises of more supply with vacancy de-control, more affordable housing isn't being built? I remember that just after the 2003 election, I bumped into a senior policy advisor on rental issues - I was able to ask him if the first draft of the new tenant legislation was ready. I was kidding of course, but we both knew changes were coming. The FMTA had been very effective in ensuring those changes. We got Dalton McGuinty to say "real rent control for all tenants at all times." Similarly, changes came about in 1975, 1977, 1985, and 1990. A big change came in 1995 when the landlords got organized and demanded more from the Harris government. Oh well, lets hope a minority government might make improvements for tenants, any way. 10.12.11
Maintenance - Speaking of maintenance, the City pro-active enforcement unit continues to find more than 50 things wrong on average in buildings they inspect. And that is just in the common areas. Yet, we still do not have an automatic provision for a rent freeze or reduction when buildings are in violation of property standards. 10.12.11
State of the Unit - The Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations has released a 20 page report on tenant and housing issues called "State of the Unit". It is well researched and written with good plain language and I hope it is read by tenants across the province. But is this the role of the FMTA to reproduce other people's stuff and findings? There is lots of references to what other people or groups are doing. Where is the FMTA action? Where is the leadership? Where is the passion? Where is the agenda for change? Why is the Outreach team not mentioned? The only action picture shows ACORN in action. There is only one underlying role for all organizations - to affect change. You can read the report on the FMTA web site www.torontotenants.org 10.05.11
International Tenants Day - A rousing success! Headline stories in all the major newspapers. Tenants marching down Yonge Street. Political leaders promising a freeze on rents and reduction of rents for all tenants living in sub standard units. An affordable housing program that will serve the waiting list within five years. An end to vacancy de-control. Landlord licensing. All because of ITD! Ok, that's enough satire for this week, but a tenant can dream, can't they? 10.05.11
International Tenants Day - Is October 3. Has to do with a UN resolution and an international tenants group. Doesn't seem to ever make much difference here although I see the FMTA is trying (again) to do something around it. Of course, landlords get 12 days a year..the first of every month when those rent dollars pour in. We need the Ontario Government to start looking seriously at the issue of affordability. Did you notice that not one word about tenants in last night's provincial leader's debate. Closest was Andrea Horvath saying that their key was every day affordability. For tenants, paying the rent is the biggest single expense. 9.28.11
Human Rights Legal Resource Centre -Do you think your human rights may have been violated in housing? Get in touch with this excellent resource to get information. For example, do you know about "duty to accommodate"? Generally, this means if you or a family member encounters a health or disability issue, a landlord must act reasonably to accommodate your needs. Perhaps, you need a different size apartment or a different floor and a more suitable unit becomes available. The landlord should make this unit available to you and not exploit you for a higher rent. Or perhaps, with a couple of simple additions to your unit that are affordable to the landlord, you can be accommodated. Learn your rights. Of course, make sure your claim is reasonable and just and true. I know what it is like to be falsely accused of a human rights violation. Here is the link for this resource. http://www.hrlsc.on.ca
The Ontario Election - I hear there is one on October 6. Sadly, housing and tenant issues are not high on the agenda, while landlord activists are expecting a certain party - if elected - to take landlord tenant legislation to a far more pro-landlord bias. Tenants have been effective in past elections. In 1975, the need for rent regulation was a huge issue and effective tenant advocacy won a breakthrough. In 1985, improvements to tenant legislation was part of an accord that brought David Peterson to power. In 1990, tenants voted in record numbers - particularly in organized buildings - and that lead to much better legislation. In 1995, the Common Sense revolution (sic) caused a huge setback to tenant rights and affordable housing. In 2003, getting rid of the badly mis-named Tenant Protection Act was a key issue. In all these elections, tenant organizations were key. Sadly in 2007, tenant organizations lacked focus or were non-existent and elected leaders were too busy in internal conflict. This election appears to be no better, as boring fact sheets and becoming members of coalitions has no fizzle or sizzle. I will vote for my party of choice, as usual, and I can only hope that other tenants will show up in good numbers - and maybe we can influence the agenda of the successful party. 9.21.11
This Web Site - One year ago today, I started this web site. I have tried to give my readers some useful information or news almost every week - and to stay on top of issues affecting tenants. I am told that my hit numbers are fairly consistent with a self employed site. My attempt at a blog did not really work - most people are so busy working to pay the rent, they don't tend to use their spare time participating in blogs - although I know some good busy people who enjoy online discussions. But I do encourage people to use my contact page if they have a question or something they want commented on. I have stayed away from the vicious mean spirit that I see on many web sites. I have also stayed away from boring stuff like the weather and my hernia. 9.14.11
The Weather;) - As if they know the rules, the weather people are calling for a serious dip in temperatures (going down to 6 degrees tomorrow) - and the City of Toronto by law requires heat to be provided as of September 15. You may want to check that it is working tomorrow. 9.14.11
My Hernia ;) - Will no longer be with me. I am having day surgery on Friday. Good riddance as it was starting to affect me when I worked out. So I haven't run my mile or done my weights for a while. 9.14.11
Tenants Still Sufffer Discrimination - Yesterday, an article in the Star about a deaf woman who did not get a single call back from 30 landlords when she mentioned that she was deaf - but got calls when she left that fact out of her e-mail shows that more education is needed. Did not one of these landlords use this as an opportunity to learn something and to give this tenant a fair chance? And this despite pro-active efforts by the Human Rights Commission to change the culture in housing. Yes, there can be issues of accommodation but not if they create a financial hardship for the landlord - but deaf tenants and blind tenants and tenants with various disabilities have proven time and time again their extraordinary ability to be great tenants. It should be a requirement for every landlord to have a copy of the human rights code at their place of business. Besides the Commission, some landlord organizations have shown leadership in promoting human rights. I did like the idea expressed that Government should help with costs associated with the duty to accommodate - but the landlord community should be ashamed of itself for not even following up with a prospective tenant on the basis of her being deaf. Here is a link to a very readable web site on human rights in Ontario; http://www.ohrc.on.ca
Is the Toronto Tenant Defence Fund Dead or Just Exhausted? - The grant money for tenant groups to defend against landlord applications is exhausted for 2011. Earlier this year, the grant fund was cut by $25,000 (grants for tenant groups are $1000) in a year where there has been above average activity by landlords seeking more rent money at the Landlord Tenant Board. The Federation of Metro Tenants Associations receives an annual contract to provide Outreach and Organizing Services and that contract was slashed by $75,000. With all the talk of budget cuts, this program is in total jeopardy for 2012. Tenants in Toronto pay triple the rate of property tax and we make up about half of the population. The fund amounts to less than 50 cents per Toronto tenant household and even if you include funding for the Tenant Hotline it is still less than a dollar per household per year. But this is not a plea to save the Tenant Defence Fund. Times and organizations have changed and not for the better. I am developing an alternate proposal for the City that will cost less, deliver more and will involve City Councillors more - working with people who are licensed to provide legal services to tenants! And yes, I am part of the proposal. 9.01.11
Jack Layton - A friend of tenants - One of Jack's chief causes was affordable housing and tenant rights. As a City Councillor, he often worked with the FMTA to help organize tenants and he supported the FMTA at City Council. I will always remember his welcoming words to me when I came to Toronto 11 years ago and our last chat on a streetcar. I first met Jack in the eighties when I was visiting Toronto as a new tenant advocate in Ottawa. Jack stood for the homeless and for the building of safe shelters and affordable non profit housing. As energetic as anyone I ever knew, fit and strong, yet susceptible to cancer. I am also 61 years old, and to lose a friend and ally like Jack - well it is sad. I hope that the City will honour Jack by naming a non profit centre or housing complex after him. "Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair." Farewell and thanks Jack. And thank you Olivia, who I came to know as my City Councillor and MP for many years and who shared the same causes. 8.23.11
My Second Year Coming - I have now completed one full year in private practice. I have had my bumps and bruises, but some good success too. A couple of cases did not go as well as hoped, but in most of my cases I have been able to give my tenant clients real value for their money. I have worked for some marvelous people! I will need to be more energetic in my marketing as it appears that City grants for tenants will disappear. One fervent hope is that we can help more tenants get justice when maintenance is sub standard. The system does not work particularly well, but I am developing a small cost per tenant approach. Ontario laws give landlords generous rents and generous rent increases - it should ensure beyond words that all buildings and units are maintained. I am hoping that tenants will become engaged in the upcoming Provincial election (October 6). Meanwhile, I will do what I can to help good tenants get what they pay for at the Landlord Tenant Board. 08.17.11
Update on City of Toronto inspection program - The Property Standard inspectors have continued to be busy, and continue to find multiple deficiencies in the buildings they inspect - more than 50 per building in the common areas alone. Yet, these tenants will face an annual rent increase (3.1% in 2012) and eviction if they don't pay the rent. We need to go back to a system where a freeze on rents is automatic for any building that is in violation of City by-laws.
See the stats for yourself at http://www.toronto.ca/licensing/mrab.htm
Affordable Justice - In today's Toronto Star, Carol Goar exposes the inadequacy of Ontario's legal aid system. Contrary to what some people think, all tenants do not qualify for legal aid and very few get representation. Tenants can get summary advice from a legal aid clinic, or some advice from duty counsel at the Landlord Tenant Board, but not representation unless their income is indecently low. Similarly, small landlords can get advice from the Landlord Self Help Centre. Tenants above the line are on their own in a hearing (and I have seen a few get steamrolled) - and usually can't even afford a paralegal, let alone a lawyer.
8.10.11 *not sure why link only gets you to the star, but you can find it under columnists
The quadrupling of a guideline - There are a couple of reasons why the Ontario Government delayed the official announcement of the 2012 guideline until July 29. One was that it was the Friday before a long weekend - but they could have done it for the same reason on Canada Day weekend. The other is that some tenants in Ontario will never see the ballyhooed "Lowest guideline in history."
Some tenants who were expecting a 0.7% increase in December, and maybe some in November as well - will not see that increase. "Benevolent" landlords will allow those tenants to live a month or two with no increase - and then whack them with a 3.1% increase in January! There are some clever folks in Government who reckoned that by delaying the announcement, fewer landlords would use this trick of the trade. And don't worry, I am not giving away an idea to the landlords,,,landlord activists are already planning strategy and talking to each other. 08.09.11
2012 Guideline - I have seen an announcement that it will indeed be 3.1% in 2012. Commentary soon, but isn't that interesting that they released it just before a long weekend?
2012 Rent Increase Guideline Announcement due soon - Last year the Government announced on June 22 the lowest guideline in history with great fanfare. The irony being that the guideline was supposed to be de-politicized as it simply follows a calculation based on the rate of inflation. This year, it is expected the guideline will more than triple...so the Government appears to be using the cone of silence (in other words it will be announced when people aren't paying attention - like the day before Canada Day, perhaps - turned out to be the next long weekend). The landlord lobby group FRPO issued a release predicting a 3.1% guideline for 2012 - and they might be right. They then went on to lament that it wasn't enough! Meanwhile they enjoy municipal tax freezes - and all the accrued benefits of above guideline increases and vacancy de-control. But hey, now I am being political. Can you imagine the outcry if unionized workers got a 3.1% increase? 6.29.11
Thorncliffe Park Tenants Association - I was pleased to march and meet with a great group of tenants last Saturday as they have issues with questionable charges by the landlord, bed bug issues, maintenance issues, and a landlord who has applied for an above guideline rent increase. Thorncliffe is a very dynamic community with great volunteers and I have worked with them for the last 11 years. The system has let them down, but we are developing strategies to achieve some fairness. 6.29.11
Human Rights Update - 6.15.11 Apparently some landlords continue to practice discrimination in housing. Yesterday, the Ontario Human Rights Commission issued a statement (link below) that is very useful for tenants and landlords. Checked a couple of landlord web sites, and behind pseudonyms there are landlords who are still openly flaunting human rights.
We need Affordable Housing - News reports this week showed that the waiting lists for affordable non profit housing are growing in Toronto and Ottawa. And with us baby boomers approaching retirement age with totally inadequate pensions, the list will grow even more. Many people don't get on the list even though they qualify because they see it as hopeless with waits of several years.
So what is the Province and the Federal Government doing to address this growing problem? Almost nothing. This is not a problem the private sector can fix - nor should they. 6.08.11
I need a Break - Well, not really...but I am taking a short vacation (3 days) next week and during the summer I will only update more sporadically (my word of the day). Of course, I am still taking all the business I can get. I am such an entrepreneur (my other word of the day). 6.08.11
Billion Dollar Transaction! - Today tenants in Ontario will turn over approximately One Billion dollars to landlords. About half of that will be in Toronto. And they will do it again the first of every month. This money comes from hard earned wages, well deserved but often inadequate pensions, disability payments, and social assistance. For many tenants this will take half or more of their monthly income. The money goes to some decent respectable landlords, some indecent not respectable landlords, some corporate giants, some mom and pops, some well run non profits and some not well run non profits. Landlords who respect their tenants and landlords who disrespect their tenants. Very little of it will go to a licensed landlord. About 18% will go to municipal taxes in larger buildings, about 10% in buildings of six units or fewer. Do you think that the payers of all this money should be well protected and the receivers regulated? Do you think that the payers should have a strong voice at City Hall and at Queens Park? I do. Do they? 6.01.11
Update on Scheduling Issues - I received a reply from the Landlord Tenant Board. No change in scheduling practice, but they did regret a mistake with respect to May 24th scheduling. 6.01.11
Affordable Housing Strategy - I have been learning more about the recently passed Bill 140 which encompassed the Ontario Government's "strategy" for affordable housing. Sadly, this strategy still leaves tenants vulnerable in non-profit housing, but worse it does nothing to help the tens of thousands of people who need affordable housing. There is no new housing in the strategy.. The Province does retain a veto power over selling off existing housing which is good. The new Act is an improvement over the late unlamented Social Housing Reform Act. The main part of the strategy? Require municipalities to develop their own strategies in consultation with the Province. 5.25.11
Scheduling Issues at the Toronto Offices of Landlord Tenant Board - For some time now, the scheduling of Above Guideline Increase cases in Toronto has been done in the Ottawa office of the LTB. The schedulers have been scheduling multiple cases on the same day. Yesterday, May 24, there were 6 different buildings that had hearings. These applications affect hundreds of tenants. The problems? There are only 3 paralegals who are doing these kinds of cases. A case with a full hearing, or even a lengthy mediation process, requires the full attention of the Agent. The landlord agents for the applicants are consulted on hearing dates (as they should be), but the respondents are less likely to retain an Agent in the early days and can be left scrambling. I lost 2 potential clients yesterday because I was committed to another client group. Two other hearings had to be adjourned and need to be re-scheduled. The practice is continuing into June and July with several dates having multiple hearings, while many dates have none. This is unfair to tenants who wish to be represented and wish to have a choice of paralegals. I have written to the Board to ask them to end this practice. I am awaiting their response. 5.25.11
Landlords Want More Rent - There are currently 206 open applications in Toronto for landlords who want to raise the rent above the Provincial guideline. This affects thousands of tenants. This is the highest number I can recall since 2001 when landlords lined up to exploit a temporary spike in gas prices. Many of the applications that I have seen include a claim for the new garbage levy - a cost that is actually now coming down! There are another 116 applications across Ontario. As always, I stand ready to help tenants to dispute these increases at reasonable rates and free consultations. If you want to know if your building is on the list, send me an e-mail or contact the FMTA Outreach team at 416-413-9442. 5-18-11
Evidence of the Need for Landlord Licensing - "Adult tenants are mostly screw ups" is a direct quote from a landlord on a landlord activist web site. This person is allowed to be a landlord in Ontario, and he can buy the building you live in today and be your landlord. Yet, he insults the vast majority of tenants who pay their rent and respect the property. I have met thousands of wonderful and decent tenants in my 30 years of experience - I am a tenant myself. We need stronger regulation to ensure that landlords like this are not allowed to spread their hatred for the people who pay the rent. Equally disturbing was that the moderators of this site allowed the statement to stand and no landlord wrote a comment to disassociate themselves from the comment. I am aware that some tenants do fall behind on the rent (often because of circumstances beyond their control) and some do not respect the property, but to insult most tenants is unacceptable. There are many respectable people in the landlord business, but some people should not be landlords. At the very least, they should be required to apply for a license. 5-18-11
An excellent column in today's Toronto Star by Carol Goar directed at anti-poverty activists (a very correct term). She talks about why low income people either don't vote or don't vote the way we think they should vote. Many vote conservative despite that party's lack of support for any poverty reduction strategy. I have worked with many brainy dedicated people who abhor the fact that the rich are getting richer, while others suffer economic pain. I have always thought that anti poverty activists are policy wise perfect - but politically very imperfect. http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/989087-goar-why-the-poor-cast-votes-for-conservatives
More or Less on Insurance - A few weeks ago I wrote about the wisdom of purchasing tenants insurance. In a nutshell, it is up to you. However, some landlords "insist" that you buy it and many are incorporating it into leases. Is this legal? Is this fair? The Act is silent on this question. In contrast, the Act is clear that a no pets clause is unenforceable. Can a landlord force you to buy a product that you do not want? Should the landlord buy it for you and pass the costs on to you in the rent? If you buy it to please a new landlord, must you renew it? If you don't buy it or renew it, can the landlord claim you are committing an illegal act and evict you? My answers - sorry legal advice is that I do not give legal advice in this forum - circumstances and cases will vary. My opinion? Landlords trying to force a product on you is wrong. As I wrote before insurance is up to you and should be based on your own cost/risk assessment. Tenant insurance is not mandatory under Ontario law and that is the way it should be. For many tenants, it is a wise purchase. 5.11.11
Air Conditioners - Despite the cold damp weather we have been having, hot weather will come. If you have an air conditioner make sure you install it properly. Landlords can not suddenly charge you a fee for installing an air conditioner, but it can be something built into a new lease and there is much debate about that. For many people, especially seniors, an air conditioner is a must and that need should not be exploited with high a/c fees. Respect the environment - turn it off when you don't need it - keeps costs down too. For many tenants, a good fan is all that is really needed. And maybe join the call to have the HST removed from heat and hydro. 5.04.11
Election Results - I was glued to the tv on Monday. I used to be much more involved in partisan politics and almost always was working for someone on E-day. Very happy for Jack Layton. I have known Jack for years. Last time I saw him we rode a streetcar together when we lived a couple blocks apart. Also happy for many friends in the party who have worked their hearts out and spotted many of them in the crowd Monday night. Looks like Stephen Harper will try to be conciliatory. We can forget about a national housing strategy for a while though. Also congrats to Brad Butt, the head of the Toronto landlord association. Brad and I debated often, rarely agreeing except on the issue of unfair property tax for rental, and he was always articulate and prepared. Brad is now a Conservative MP in Mississauga. And congrats to my old conservative friend Kevin Moore for giving it a shot and to Carolyn Bennett for winning in my riding. Provincial election coming in October. 5.04.11
Update on Property Standard Inspections - The pro-active program has now audited just over 10% of Toronto apartment buildings. This year, they are finding just less than an average of 50 deficiencies per building, and the three year average is close to 60. Toronto tenants continue to pay the full rent despite the fact that these landlords are not providing full maintenance. http://www.toronto.ca/licensing/mrab.htm 4/27/11
Paralegals and Legal Aid - Paralegals are not allowed to accept legal aid clients. If a tenant qualifies for Legal Aid (most tenants do not), I will send them to their closest community legal clinic, or to the Legal Aid office to obtain a certificate. If they get a certificate, they cannot use a paralegal. This is something I am trying to have changed as we are also licensed, insured and members of the Law Society. With rare exceptions, Legal Aid does not do above guideline rent defences or tenant applications for maintenance.A paralegal offers an affordable alternative. Tenants must be income tested to qualify for legal aid representation, but all tenants can receive some assistance from duty counsel ( Legal Aid lawyers) at the Landlord Tenant Board on the day of their hearing. In Toronto, that service does not include case representation. 4/27/11
Tenant Defence Committee Cut? - Today the City of Toronto Executive Committee will be looking to cut a number of advisory boards and committees including the Tenant Defence Committee. As some one who attended every meeting of that Committee, I can tell you that it has dealt with a number of important issues - with some effect - over the years. These issues include rent regulation, smart meters, visitor parking meters, property standards and more. That Committee also oversees the workings of the Tenant Defence by-law. Only Councillors sit on the Committee. There is no extra cost to the taxpayer. It doesn't seem much to have a Committee meet 3 or 4 times a year to keep abreast of rental housing issues. And yes, landlords have participated fully over the years in the discussions. But it seems that the City cares less about the people who care about their City, and more about those who are only looking to save a few bucks on their property tax (not to mention their cars). 4.20.11
Tenant Responsibilities - I sometimes hear landlord activists say that tenant advocates do not advise tenants of their responsibilities. Nonsense. First of all, tenant rights are predicated on paying the rent. We help tenants deal with landlords who do not adhere to landlord responsibilities such as proper maintenance. We also advise and provide legal protections against unjust rent increases. When a tenant falls behind in the rent, often because of circumstances beyond their immediate control, we look for ways to avoid eviction by finding ways to get the rent paid - but ultimately the lawful rent must be paid. However, in some cases there may be an issue about what that legal rent is. For example, the landlord is in substantial violation of property standards. The Act suggests that the rent should be abated or frozen, and a tenant can raise this at a hearing. We also advise tenants that if they willfully or negligently cause damages, they are responsible - see my post here of 4.06. 4.20.11
A Bad Deal For Tenants - 25 years ago, a Committee established by the David Peterson Government to review and advise on the Ontario Rent Review system and the Government intention to bring in a new law - published their report and recommendations. The Committee consisted of 9 landlord reps, 9 tenant reps, and 6 staff from the Ministry of Housing. All but one tenant rep approved the report, and the Government members were not asked to sign. That report lead to the Residential Rent Regulation Act of 1986 - and massive rent increases soon followed for all sorts of capital works, financing schemes and a high guideline. Illegal rents were made legal. Tenants are still paying for that mistake.
On the tenant side, improvements were made for rooming house tenants, maintenance was made a stronger issue and promises were made about a rent registry and improved commitment to non profit housing. Proud to say that I was the one tenant rep who refused to sign on to that deal, and I worked with many others to bring down that awful Act. 4.13.11
Tenant Insurance - I was recently asked if tenants should carry tenants or tenant contents insurance. My answer - it is up to you. This insurance is not mandatory in law such as auto insurance is - and other types of insurance such as the insurance I carry as a professional paralegal. Recent fires and other disasters indicate the positive reasons to carry tenants insurance. Insurance is a risk management/cost question, and your decision should be based on your personal situation, including an assessment of the housing that you occupy. Do you own a lot of stuff? Are there extra risks that you take such as smoking -or you tend to keep everything around the apartment? Premiums will vary, and you need to assess value. Perhaps, your budget is stretched to the limit now. Should you give an insurance company maybe $250 a year, just in case? In ten years, you will give them $2500 and many people can replace their contents for less than that if there is a fire or if you are robbed. There are 4300 apartment buildings in Toronto, and about 500,000 rental units - how many real claims are necessary each year? Whether you buy insurance or not, take full responsibility and action to reduce risks within your control and make sure your landlord is taking their responsibility on issues such as fire safety and security. And if you are buying insurance, shop around and ask lots of questions. 4.13.11
Damages - Your landlord wants you to pay for damages to the apartment that you did not cause. Do not pay. If they take you to the Landlord Tenant Board, stand up for your rights. A landlord just tried to collect from a tenant without any evidence, and we got his case dismissed. A tenant is responsible for damages caused by their wilful or negligent conduct - but that has to be proven on a balance of probabilities. 4.06.11
Norm Brudy - A history note for today. Norm Brudy founded the FMTA among his many accomplishments. Norm was a gentle man with a sly wit and humour, but tough as nails in standing up for tenants and our rights. He was a marvelous public speaker. I had the pleasure of meeting Norm many times to talk about community building and organizing and the need to take on the cause. No cause too small was a motto of Norm's. Norm also belonged to a fringe political party (Communist) and that fact has been thrown in our faces many times..but never did Norm mix his organizing. He never tried to convert anyone or even discuss party politics at a tenant meeting. We could use a person like Norman Brudy again to help us focus on our mission. Norm died 11 years ago at the age of 80, and many of us still think of Norm for inspiration. 4.06.11
Promises-promises: A promise to repair or replace is a contract. If your landlord fails to keep a promise to repair, it is actionable at the Landlord Tenant Board. 3-30-11
Finding an Apartment - the FMTA has a plain language guide - here is the link;
You ought to know about a building before you rent - and if you live there - The City of Toronto continues its pro-active apartment blitz. By going to the web site below, you can find out about building deficiencies. In recent audits, landlords have been doing a little better and average deficiencies are now less than 50. You can also find out if the building has been dealing - or ignoring - deficiencies if it was audited some time ago. You don't want to find out about it after you move in. And if a prospective landlord promises that all deficiencies will be cleared - get it in writing - and ask for a free month at the end of the lease if that promise is not kept. 3.30.11
The Mystery of Calculating an Above Guideline Rent Increase - Imagine going to court and not knowing what your risk is if you lose. When a landlord applies for a rent increase above the guideline - they are not required to state how much they are seeking. but only to disclose the basis of their application. Essentially the decision of how much is left to the Landlord Tenant Board. Paralegals do a calculation for their clients that is usually fairly accurate, but in general tenants are left in the dark. I am proposing that the Board do a calculation that says, if successful, based on the numbers provided by the landlord the potential rent increase is x%. The Board should include this calculation in its first notice for tenants. This information should also disclose whether or not there is a potential carry over provision. Sometimes, the tenant may believe that their maximum risk is 3%, but be unaware that there is potential for more to be carried over the subsequent 2 years. On the other hand, I have seen tenants overly worried about a rent increase application where the potential is less than 1% - they just don't know it. The Board does these calculations prior to the hearing. I am calling for them to do it much earlier and disclose it to all the parties. 3.23.11
The Mystery of Bill 140 - The Ontario Government is considering new legislation dealing with affordable (non profit) housing. There are public hearings on March 24 and 31. When I googled the Bill, I found very little commentary on the bill except from the Wellesley Institute, the Housing Network of Ontario and the Ontario Non Profit Housing Association. Nothing from Toronto legal clinics or the FMTA. It appears that support is tepid for improvements over the lamentable and repealed Social Housing Reform Act. Major criticism is no new housing supply. Some one from the FMTA will be making a deputation tomorrow, but I have no idea what their stance is...and I am a member. But lets hope that someday we will see a better supply of affordable housing, I have given up on adequate supply. 3.23.11
Updated Tenant Rights Guide coming - Had the pleasure of working with a communications assistant to Eric Hoskins MPP last week. They are updating and improving (vastly) their tenant rights guide. Myself and another tenant advocate spent 2 hours going over the draft. Look for it soon. By the way, did you know that landlords are supposed to give new tenants a government approved brochure outlining basic rights and where to call for help? Unfortunately, the Government declined to put any penalty in for those landlords who "forget" to give you the brochure. I wouldn't mind doing a test case on this as I think any part of the law being violated should carry a penalty. The most complete guide can still be found on the FMTA web site and it is available in many languages. 3.16.11
Hello Columbus! - Yesterday, this site had its second busiest day of all time - well the first 6 months - but I found out that a lot of the hits came from Columbus (Ohio I presume). Curious. 3.16.11
Toronto Community Housing - Rush to Judgment is bad judgment - Although there is no defense for bad spending of public money put in your trust, I have been appalled at the knee jerk reactions led by the Mayor. And the sick reactions of people posting online. The Board of Directors should be accused of bad oversight (and given the right to defend against the accusations), but no one has shown any evidence of personal gain by any of them - it was staff that spent the money - on staff. The Auditor clearly stated that there was no evidence of fraud - yet various people are suggesting that people should be put in jail. Now there is the distinct threat that tonight more Board members will be dismissed. Does anyone listen? Or do we all just hear what we want to hear? Twenty staff members have either been fired, left on their own, or disciplined and others are under internal investigation. Meanwhile, a corporation is being de-stabilized by people acting on only what they want to hear. Speaking of hearing - why aren't tenant organizations such as FMTA and ACTO speaking out? Just checked, nothing on the web site except a solitary posting from....me. 3.09.11
International Women's Day - Was yesterday. There are more women tenants than male tenants - more low income women than men - and I can think of many great women who have led the fight for tenant rights. Those voices are needed as much as ever! 3.09.11
Toronto Community Housing - A bunch of you know what hit the fan this week with the release of the auditor report on questionable spending. Long time advocates of non profit housing, like me, are appalled at the spending, but want to ensure that perspective is not lost and that idealogues in favour of privitization will not use this to waste a lot of time. So I will save us the time. In 1996, the Mike Harris Government looked at privatizing social housing. They commissioned a report from Citi Bank. Citi Bank found that it would cost taxpayers far more to privatize rather than keep public housing in public hands. I was chair of a group to save social housing in Ottawa and we made sure the media was aware of these facts found by a bank. So if your idealogy is to save taxpayers money, you must keep TCHC in the public domain. We need more non profit public housing, not less. And yes, we need TCHC to continue to clean up its act. To their credit, I found the whole auditor's report on the TCHC web site. 3.02.11
Landlord Tenant Board Fees - The Landlord Tenant Board charges tenants a fee if they want to apply for an abatement or rent freeze or if the landlord has withdrawn services at the LTB. They also charge landlords a fee for filing an eviction application. If successful, it gets added to what the tenant owes. I believe these fees should be abolished. We are all taxpayers and if we are wronged we shouldn't have to pay to get a hearing. The 2 reasons for these fees are to offset costs of the Board, but they raise millions of dollars through these fees, and to try to discourage frivolous applications. My preferred solution would be to assess costs where the application is found to be frivolous or vexatious. I would keep a fee for above guideline applications as this is where the landlord wants more from the tenant. 2.23.11
Property Standards Toronto - I had a great chat with the head of the Property Standards for Toronto. We discussed some ideas for going after the City's worst offenders, Tenants can apply for a rent freeze or abatement, but the process is complicated and - as above - a fee must be paid. If your building has not been getting what you pay for (good maintenance), I can help you make an application. A multi tenant application is more complicated, but I can structure a very reasonable fee for your building. 2.23.11
Maintenance Issues in Toronto - call 311 and ask for a Property Standards inspector for your area. 2.23.11
Do Words Matter? - Tenant landlord issues are frequently contentious. Since I got involved almost 30 years ago, I have had some concern about the way people talk and write. The internet - generally a wonderful tool - has become a haven for people to spew anything they want. Things have gotten worse. Recently, a columnist in a newspaper chose to use a phrase that is an insult to all people who truly want to help people suffering in poverty. I will repeat the phrase only once - poverty pimp. This phrase is used by low character people on the internet. It may not be as bad as phrases used to hurt people of different colour or nationality or sexual orientation or faith, but it is certainly in the same vein. We have also heard a hockey icon disparage people of different political views - right in a house of democracy! Pinko kooks - bottom of the barrel. I have had clients called names by their landlord which only inflames situations. An internet landlord organization allows disparaging and hurtful comments - but they don't realize that only hurts their own credibility. A tenant organization calls a political candidate a failure and then acts surprised when he doesn't support them. Canadian law seems to require financial harm or designated hate terms to be required for legal action such as libel or slander. Any way, I will continue to hope for more civil debate. Or am I just being...sanctimonius? 2.16.11
Damage Deposits - Bill 145 - A Conservative MPP has introduced a bill in the Ontario Legislature that would permit landlords to collect a damage deposit equal to 1/4 of the monthly rent. This is the first time in over 40 years that this subject has been before the Legislature. Believe it or not, I believe the issue is worthy of discussion to protect some of the good people in the small landlord category. We have consistently urged homeowners to add to the supply of more affordable housing. These landlords do not have the economy of scale to absorb costs if they get a bad tenant who willfully or negligently damages property. On the other hand, the business is also full of people who are awful landlords who disrespect tenant rights (the person who pays the rent) and human rights, and tenants in general. Corporate landlords do not need damage deposits. Safeguards must be in place to ensure that damage deposits are promptly refunded. For example, I have always believed that if a landlord holds money unlawfully and is caught, that they should have to pay the tenant triple the amount unlawfully withheld. There are many predicting that the Conservatives will form the next Government. Thoughtful debate is always in order in a democracy. Check the link below if you would like to read the bill, just click on 145 when you get to the page. 2.09.11
Snow and Your Rights - Toronto by-laws require lanes and walkways to be clear of ice and snow. However, certain tests of reason do apply. While the snow is still falling, you can't expect overworked snow clearing contractors to get to every building, but they must get to it as quickly as can be reasonable. You have a right to get your cars out of the parking lot, and to be able to walk safely. If your landlord does not respond to a snowfall, it is a violation and you can contact the City (although apparently they are just getting around to this in London). Call 311 in Toronto for any City matter. The landlord can contract with any one they want, and in some cases can contract with the tenant. But they cannot force the tenant to do snow clearing. Be careful what you bargain for when renting from small landlords. But hey, here I am in a high rise, I take the TTC and can do most of my business from home. In other news - the Blue Jay home opener is just 58 days away. 2.02.11
Here is a "classic" case of why tenants need better laws. This was a Sun article on conditions at 31 St. Dennis. The link doesn't work any more. 1.26.11
The MRAB program, often referred to by me as the apartment blitz, seems to be safe from City cutbacks for this year. The web site has been improved and now contains a "tenant charter". This program has exposed that the average corporate landlord that has had buildings inspected average over 50 common area deficiencies. Yet, these landlords are still able to take an annual rent increase - while enjoying the Mayor's proclaimed tax freeze. What also continues is the Province does not automatically freeze the rents on these buildings until the deficiencies are fixed. Tenant Advocacy organizations have to start (or re-start) making this an issue! 1.26.11
Above Guideline Rent Increases -There are currently 224 open applications before the Landlord Tenant Board - with 155 of them in Toronto alone. I can provide a range of services for tenants in your building. This includes full representation, but can also include case review and analysis, written submissions or presentations, and coaching on self representation. Send me an e-mail if you want to know if you are on the list, [email protected] - and yes, I can help tenants outside Toronto too! 1.19.11
I don't mind homeowners in Rosedale and Forest Hill getting a tax freeze, but I do mind that folks in Parkdale, Malvern, and Thornecliff have to pay higher user fees to use city facilities. 1.19.11
Tenant Defence Fund Alive!- It was announced that the City will be cutting the fund by $100,000. That still leaves $225,000 (about 4 cents per month per rental household). Most of the cut will be to the Outreach contract of the FMTA, $75,000, so I guess I won't be replaced, and the special education work will be cut to vulnerable groups. The grants part is being cut by $25,000. The real issue will be making the program effective (again) to avoid the landlord lobby attempts to cut the whole fund. The FMTA made some questionable decisions last year. I truly hope they get their eye on the ball and be effective in 2011. I just renewed my membership. 1.12.11
Tax Freezes - I don't mind my landlord getting a tax freeze, although my rent will be increased in April. But, I do mind if EMS can't get to one of my neighbours quickly enough because of budget cuts.
Some Random Thoughts - I read some interesting and peculiar ideas - for example, apparently tenant advocates wrote the Residential Tenancies Act - I wish - if so, we would not have vacancy de-control, tenants would still be getting 6% interest on last months rent, there would be automatic rent freezes or reductions when landlords were in violation of property standards, there would be a low cost licensing system in place and a few other ideas that Governments have ignored.. Another one was that Ontario should adopt Texas laws for tenants - since rents are so much lower there (I have family in Texas). I would agree to those changes, if it was tied to a 40% permanent rent decrease for all tenants. Some good discussion on bed bugs - its a problem that should not be blamed on any one. But I do have to stop reading landlord activist sites. 1.12.11
Energy Consumer Protection Act - Bill 235 is now proclaimed - For tenants it means you do not have to switch to paying your own hydro unless the landlord discloses enough facts and the offer is in your interest. You can just say no. It also protects incoming tenants from insufficient knowledge about previous hydro usage when the apartment has a smart meter. The law is basically good, but long overdue. Some landlords and some smart meter companies jumped the gun and tried (sometimes successsfully) to foist bad deals on tenants. Can't do that now. Smart meters can be a useful tool in helping to preserve energy. They can not be used as a tool to increase your housing costs. Jan. 05/2011.
Do the tenants in your building need a professional written submission? - There are many buildings where the Landlord Tenant Board has called for a written submission on landlord applications concerning variances - related to garbage and re-cycling issues - I have developed a written submission that I can tailor to your building - for a very low reasonable fee. Call me...416-907-9085. January 2, 2011
Ending My Blog? - I have been a little disappointed that people haven't been too interested in my blog. I am getting plenty of hits on this site. So, I plan to make some changes and post a number of short essays of interest (hopefully) to tenants. Some expected titles: Is landlord licensing dead or just wounded? Changes Needed to tenant law? Why I don't hate landlords. Why some landlords should not be landlords. Smart (?) Meters. When is ordinary, Extraordinary? How can 60 deficiencies a building go unpunished? Variances Schmariances. Send me an e-mail if there is something you would like to see. Meanwhile - Happy New Year! 12.29.10
Final City Stats Alarming - The "blitz" program started by the City of Toronto has now completed 2 full years. The City has audited 393 (out of 4300) multi residential apartment buildings. They have issued 2161 notices and orders covering 23,233 deficiencies. This is just under 60 deficencies per building in the common areas alone. Most, 13,026, of the deficiencies remain outstanding. The City has started prosecutions against 31 landlords. The Province has given zero automatice rent reductions. 12.22.10
Is your rent going down? Did you get a letter from the City? - Taxes paid by many landlords continue to decrease based on recent re-assessments done by a Provincial Agency. Pursuant to the Residential Tenancies Act, savings must be passed on to tenants - as of January 1 of the following year if the decrease is 2.5% or more. The City must send a letter to the tenants, and the tenants can and should take the reduction starting January 1. This year letters are going out to about 128,000 (about 1 out of every 3) tenant households in Toronto. TAKE THE DECREASE NO MATTER WHAT YOUR LANDLORD MIGHT SAY - IT IS THE LAW! Landlords can apply for a variance and this could ultimately result in a change to the amount of the reduction, but only if they file a successful application - should you make any other adjustment to your rent. If you received a letter and have any questions, call the FMTA Hotline at 416-921-9494. If your landlord applies to the Landlord Tenant Board for a "variance" - I suggest youcontact a licensed para legal or lawyer. I am currently helping clients deal with issues from last year's notices and variances. 12-15-2010
Welcome to the New City Council of Toronto - It is a new start and lots of opinions and concerns - both good and bad. I will be encouraging the new Mayor to remember that almost half of the people in Toronto live in rental housing and they expect customer service and respect, and that we pay a greater burden of taxation due to the multi residential tax premium. I know that Mayor Ford has fought for tenants in the past. It is too bad that a day of working together for the City was spoiled yesterday by the worst speech I have ever heard - Don Cherry. I like hockey, I played left wing (badly) , I pay my taxes, and I respect the law. So do all my friends on the political left. 12.08.10
Bill 112- Cheri Di Novo continues her brave fight for these long overdue improvements to legislation. Tonight she will be on TV taking on tough respected landlord advocates. 12.08.10 . Good luck Cheri! Rogers (Channel 10) at 7 pm.
Toronto South backlog - for the past year, Above Guideline applications have been on hold at the Toronto South office of the LTB. Word is that the backlog will be cleared early in 2011 and that cases will be virtually assembly lined. I would be pleased to help any tenant group with my wide range of services, including coaching on self representation. 12.01.10
Back from wedding vacation in Mexico and back to work - Enjoyed a great week in Mexico and a very memorable wedding of my son and new daughter. If you want to see pics, look me up on facebook.12.01.10
Mayor Rob Ford - Do you think he will be good for tenants? Check out my blog and feel free to make comments.11.17.10
Personal Update - Today my son turns - gulp - 30, and next week he -- double gulp -- is getting married. That means I will be away for a few days and will not be updating next week. Last week, my daughter turned 25...it is amazing to think of how time flies and yet I still look so young.11.17.10
Buidling audit update - The City has now inspected 372 buildings, issued 2016 Orders covering 21, 508 deficiencies (common areas only). 65% of the Orders remain outstanding, and about 57% of the deficiencies. The City has initiated 28 prosecutions. The Province has given zero automatic rent freezes or reductions to the affected tenants.11.10.10
Snakes - The experience of tenants at 100 Wellesley this week has taught us that not all snakes are dangerous, and they can be a household pet. Great work by the 100 Wellesley Tenants Association in getting good information to tenants via their internet site.11.10.10
Landlords as Politicians - Tenants in a building owned by a former prominent Cabinet Minister are concerned that they are at a disadvantage in dealing with this landlord. I am not sure they are right about that, but I think every candidate for office should declare if they are a landlord - and perhaps disqualify themselves from any part of a debate that involves tenant issues. Transparency please.
Options - You always have them. An advisor such as myself should give you all of the options. This should include self representation, the existence of other professionals, settlement options, and options that may reduce your legal costs. Whether working with a non profit group or a professional, always ask are these all my options? Who else could help me? I have recently learned that a certain organization is not giving tenants all of their options - such as who can provide representation services - and that is a community disservice. For example, there are three licensed paralegals who represent tenants on above guideline rent increase applications. I am always happy to provide you with the names of the other two - you are allowed to choose. 11.03.10
200 Roehampton update - As seen below, the Landlord Tenant Board made an excellent decision in favour of the tenants. Alas, the landlord has filed an appeal with Divisional Court and the decision is stayed (not effective until the appeal is decided).
Smart Meters - Many landlords are anxious to have tenants pay their own hydro - including the HST - by installing smart meters. No tenant has to agree to any such switch!
Further to do so now is very murky. The Energy Consumer Protection Act is expected to be proclaimed January 2011. That law clearly requires fully informed consent, as does the Ontario Energy Board. However, new tenants may not have any choice and hydro will be excluded. If you have been unfairly or improperly treated by being pushed into accepting hydro bills, I may be able to help. Drop me a line.
October 18 - Excellent result for 200 Roehampton tenants! For the past two years, I have been working with tenants at this high rise. They filed a tenant application based on over 40 violations of the City of Toronto property standard by-law. The tenants have been awarded a 10% rent abatement for one full year, and a rent freeze until the deficiencies are rectified. It took a long long time - but justice was finally delivered.
Oct. 15 - Today the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations released their report card on mayoral and city council candidates for Toronto. http://www.torontotenants.org
I may have some comments later, but it is not my role to tell you who to vote for. It is also not the FMTA role to endorse candidates
City of Toronto Property Standards Stats - http://www.toronto.ca/licensing/mrab.htm
Ina little over 21 months, and inspecting about 350 buildings, the City has now found over 20,000 deficiencies in buildings that tenants must pay rent in. Yet, the Province does nothing to address these issues unless the tenant goes through the massive legalese and bureaucracy of the LTB. It is time for automatic rent freezes on buildings that are not up to the minimum standard required.
Kensington Bellwoods Community Legal Services - I am a Director of this marvelous community legal clinic. Tomorrow, October 14, at 7 pm, we are hosting an all candidates meeting for Ward 19 at the Church on the nw corner of Bathurst and College. If you live in Ward 19, come on out. I will be the moderator of the event.
Bed Bugs - I have had them - Finally people are starting to work together for a solution and not (all) playing the blame game - tenants, landlords, politicians, health officials, scientists, pest control experts working together gives us a fighting chance.
Fire at 200 Wellesley - most tenants now back home -this fire certainly raises many questions, but I hope that all Torontonians will pitch in and help the victims. You can make a donation at any Royal Bank. I will.
Ottawa Tenants Conference - A wonderful event put on by wonderful people on September 25. About 100 tenants attended and a landlord spy or two. I attended two excellent workshops on advocacy and about the proposed Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods proposal (not as good as it sounds). I was honoured to give the keynote speech and I reminded the tenants of our successes, and I invoked Barack Obama - YES WE CAN
Section 20 of the Residential Tenancies Act states -A landlord is responsible for providing and maintaining a residential complex, including the rental units in it, in a good state of repair and fit for habitation and for complying with health, safety, housing and maintenance standards.
TURN THE HEAT ON - With summer over, it is now time for the landlords to turn the heat on in Toronto and most other cities. You are entitled to 21% celsius - you pay for it in your rent. The Toronto by-law kicks in on September 15.
Tenants Rights Bill - On September 16, Cheri Di Novo MPP for Parkdale High Park will be introducing a bill of rights for tenants.
Visitor Parking meters banned - Toronto City Council has passed a city wide by-law prohibiting the use of parking meters in apartment visitor parking lots.
2010 - rent guideline was 2.1% , 2011 guideline is 0.7%. The guideline is based on the Ontario rate of inflation for the previous 12 month period preceding the annual announcement in June.
Federation of Metro Tenants Associations (FMTA) http://www.torontotenants.org
Landlord Tenant Board http://www.ltb.gov.on.ca
TENANTS AND TAXES - Tenants in Toronto still pay property taxes at a rate three times higher than homeowners. It used to be a lot worse, but it still remains completely inequitable. I have been working on this issue for 25 years. Some success, but not enough. 9.15.10