Toronto's planning and housing committee calls for vacancy control legislation
Toronto city council is expected to consider a proposal this week to ask the Ontario government to prevent landlords from raising the rent as much as they want in between tenants.
Council's planning and housing committee says the province should introduce legislation that would end what is known as vacancy decontrol, which permits landlords to charge new tenants any amount they want for vacant units. Such a bill would tie rent increases to residential units instead of to tenants.
Coun. Paula Fletcher, who represents Toronto-Danforth and is a committee member, said the legislation would help to protect tenants, preserve affordable housing and deter what is known as renovictions, which occur when landlords evict tenants illegitimately by saying they need to do renovations or repairs.
"They're raising the rent double what the person was paying previously and sometimes triple," Fletcher told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Tuesday. "This is called vacancy rent control and it's really important."
Currently, landlords are allowed to raise the rent by the provincial rent increase guideline, which is 2.5 per cent for 2023. That's the maximum a landlord can hike rents for most units during a year without the approval of the Landlord and Tenant Board.
But that guideline doesn't apply to vacant residential units. If landlords want to do major upgrades, they can apply to the board for approval to raise rents by more than the guideline permits.
The committee also wants council to approve a proposed policy that would guide the development of a new bylaw to deter renovictions, which Fetcher says are common in Toronto.
Every landlord should have to make it clear that tenants have the right to return after a renovation or repair, she said.
"Tenants get very afraid. When they get a notice that says, 'You have to leave, we're doing a renovation,' an eviction notice, they don't even realize that they have a right to return," she said. "Often the renovations aren't as deep and thorough that would require someone to leave a unit."
In the item before council, the planning and housing committee says: "Evictions, including renovictions, result in the displacement of tenants, housing instability, increased rates of homelessness and the permanent loss of affordable and mid-range rental homes."
In a news release on Tuesday, Ontario NDP MPP Jessica Bell, the party's housing critic, said she supports the committee's call to ask the province to end vacancy decontrol.
Bell said the Doug Ford government should immediately pass the NDP's proposed Rent Stabilization Act, which would ensure that all tenants pay what the previous tenant paid. The New Democrats plan to retable the legislation in the coming session.
"People in Ontario are smack in the middle of a housing crisis, and Doug Ford's insistence on allowing landlords to hike the rent unchecked between tenants is a major contributor to driving up market rental prices," Bell said.
Landlord opposes end of vacancy decontrol
Varun Sriskanda, who rents out three single family homes in Toronto, said the legislation would deter landlords from doing upgrades on their properties because they wouldn't be able to raise the rent to keep up with rising mortgage and property tax costs. Sriskanda is a board member of the Small Ownership Landlords of Ontario.
"It's going to be harder for myself and other mom-and-pop landlords to make ends meet and to be able to stay in the business of being a housing provider," Sriskanda told Metro Morning.
Sriskanda said the committee is failing to take into account that there is a difference in financial resources between institutional and small landlords..
"That may mean selling our properties and completely removing it from Ontario rental housing stock. Instead, we can invest our money in more landlord friendly provinces, like Alberta, or commercial real estate, or even take our rental properties and convert them to short and medium term rental properties on platforms like Airbnb," he said.
The committee also wants council to ask the province::
- To work with the city to look at existing legislation to protect tenants from renoviction as a result of maintenance, repair and renovation done by a landlord through a building permit.
- To increase funding of the provincial Rental Housing Enforcement Unit to set up an after-hours emergency line for tenants or landlords, to add more inspectors, and to increase the frequency of site visits to investigate complaints.
- To make the Landlord and Tenant Board more accessible to individuals and groups of tenants seeking reduction in rents when their rental units fall into disrepair.
- To create a centralized data system and registry to: register all rental properties in Toronto; and make the data available to the public.