Safer living conditions are coming to Toronto's apartments

Safe housing is a right, but it is a right that many Torontonians are being denied. The Toronto Tenant Issues Committee works hard to right this wrong.

On Nov. 2, 2016 that committee met to discuss how to fix the problems that renters face. The main issue was deciding if the committee should adopt a licensing regime or a regulating regime. A licensing regime would be focused on allowing tenants to complain and discuss problems with their building directly with the city.

A regulating regime on the other hand would include fines and other demerits to the landlord by the city.

The biggest problem that this council decision will affect is, when faced with something that goes against code in the landlords building, it is cheaper for him to pay the fine set out by the city than it is for him to fix the actual problem. The result is people living in bug-infested apartments with major structural damage.

This is only aggravated because 311 who is supposed to deal with tenant issues is understaffed and unable to satisfy the demand. According to ACORN research 70 per cent of tenants needed repairs that weren’t dealt with, and 70 per cent of rentals needed repairs when people moved in.

As Councillor Gord Perks said, “It’s flat unjust and wrong. Right now the right to profit off of someone is higher than the right to safe housing.”

Councillor Janet Davis said that educating the tenants of their rights should be the first step towards fixing these issues. Councillor Davis proposed that tenants be given a copy of each work order that they submit so they can have proof if their work order is ignored. Currently the city must just take the tenants on their word. This proposal would give tenants proof that their needs are not being met.

She also proposed that tenants be informed whenever the building that they live in is part of an appeal to the landlord by the city. That way they can go and educate themselves about what the city is doing and where the flaws are in the system.

Helen Lee who is on the board of directors for the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations agrees that educating the tenants is the best way to tackle these issues. Lee runs a Twitter account that informs people of their rights as a tenant and allows them to ask questions about their rights which she directly responds to.

Lee was encouraged to do this after what she describes as, “horror stories” of tenants being taken advantage of because they do not know their rights. One such story Lee shared with the council.

She said, “One woman bought caulking to repair her bathtub after the work order was ignored. The landlord threatened her that he would sue her.”

The landlord had no legal right to sue her, but because of a lack of education the woman still feared for eviction and being sued.

Not everyone in the meeting room agreed with education being the most effective solution.

Dan McIntyre a paralegal for tenants who has been attending these council meetings since 1981 said, “the major problems for tenants is at the provincial level.”

He says that without political pressure at the provincial level things will continue to change at a snails pace. If the political pressure were there these issues would have been changed 30 years ago.

At the conclusion of the meeting it was decided that a landlord licensing by-law would be the most effective solution. It was passed unanimously.