Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Toronto City Council Approves Next Step Towards Landlord Licensing
Despite earlier pushback to the idea said to be emanating from the mayor’s office, a large majority of councillors agreed to go ahead with public consultations, as staff had recommended.
The vote was 33-6, with Councillors John Campbell, Christin Carmichael Greb, Stephen Holyday, Giorgio Mammoliti, Denzil Minnan-Wong and James Pasternak voting against.
“It’s a big relief that we’re in a position to continue working on this,” said Natalie Hundt, a spokesperson for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). “Right now I’m just really grateful that we have the opportunity, after 12 long years of work, to move forward on this, finally.”
City staff have proposed that licensing would apply to 3,300 apartment buildings that are three storeys or higher, with 10 units or more. Information would be made available to prospective and existing tenants as part of a proactive approach to ensuring that building standards are maintained, including requiring landlords to develop maintenance plans.
Hundt said there is still much more work to do. She hopes staff will bring forward a report recommending licensing that is efficient and has enough “teeth” to force compliance.
The vote came after an earlier fight at the licensing committee, where Mayor John Tory’s office was accused of trying to sideline the item.
Tory has said he’s not convinced licensing is the only way to deal with problem landlords, echoing arguments from the landlord lobby that the city should focus on improving its current enforcement. But on Wednesday, Tory and most of his executive voted to move ahead with consultations.
Representatives of the city’s landlords stepped up their lobbying efforts against the licensing measure in the past week, with lobbyists from StrategyCorp — a company founded by Tory’s campaign strategist, John Duffy — targeting the mayor and his supporters.
The Greater Toronto Apartment Association also launched a campaign, warning tenants they would be burdened with rent increases if council ultimately backed landlord licensing. The group referred to it as an “apartment tax.”
But on Wednesday, Tracey Cook, executive director of municipal licensing and standards, told council that assertion was “wholly false.” She said that while landlords could choose to apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board for above-guideline increases in rent to cover the cost, under current rules it would be difficult to get such an increase approved.
The provincial housing minister’s office earlier confirmed that, while landlords could apply for a rent increase, its expectation is “that licensing fees would not be passed on to tenants.”
Councillor Josh Matlow, who chairs the tenant issues committee and has pushed for licensing, said council’s vote sent a “strong message” that council plans to support tenants. “Today demonstrated that the landlord lobby’s efforts to misinform the public and try to manipulate tenants into advocating against their own interests failed,” he said.
GTAA president and CEO Daryl Chong said he was “disappointed” with the vote and insisted licensing would inevitably raise rents.
“It is a pass-through,” he said. “If the city imposes these fees, landlords will apply and it will be up to the Landlord (and) Tenant Board to approve or not. But we feel from the way the (regulation) is written that we can.”
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