WITH ‘SKYROCKETING’ RENT INCREASES, BRAMPTON TENANTS LOOK TO COUNCIL FOR HELP IN FIGHT AGAINST LANDLORDS
Tenants in Brampton are being crushed under sky-high rent increases; are watching their landlords get away with neglectful and unethical behaviour; and are in desperate need of help. This is what ACORN told members of Brampton city council last week, when asking local elected officials to implement enhanced landlord regulations that will support middle and low-income tenants who face some of the highest rent prices in the country.
According to the Canadian Rental Housing Index, Brampton is classified as an “unaffordable” city with residents spending between 30 to 49 percent of their income on rent and utilities alone. Data from the Region of Peel show 80 percent of residents can not afford current rental and ownership costs.
“We’re seeing skyrocketing rent prices across the country, but it’s mainly low and moderate income people that are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis,” Aiden Janey, one of the delegates and a member of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), said. He highlighted in an interview with The Pointer that his own landlord took approximately five months to fix the lobby’s front and back doors, posing a serious security risk for the building’s residents. “They said they’re going to fix the doors, they failed to do so for a long time. Luckily now it’s fixed, but it took way too long and way too many promises that they were going to come back.”
“Landlords are very bad to their tenants, they often don’t do the repairs that are necessary and leave the building to fall into disrepair, and they increase rents whenever they have the opportunity to do so,” he said. “One tactic that they’re doing is pretty much coaxing people either through decreasing the quality of their service, or even harassing them, and providing buyouts to essentially force them out.”
A report published this month by Rentals.ca ranked cities in Canada by the average and annual change in rent for apartments and condos. Out of the 25 cities listed, Brampton was the sixth most expensive city with an average rent increase year over year of 23.4 percent.
ACORN’s delegation highlighted three of the top housing issues that rest within council’s purview to address. Lack of accountability for landlords was the first issue brought up.
“Tenants are struggling with pests, mold, flooding, and just a general lack of repair and maintenance. The onus is completely on the tenants to file a complaint, which in many cases are not followed up upon. This proves the need for a landlord registration program,” Janey said.
Licensing for landlords in the city is currently under consideration. Earlier this year, councillors passed a motion requesting staff report back in the third quarter of this year with an implementation plan for a two-year Brampton Rental Landlord Registration/Licencing Pilot Program, (beginning in the first quarter of 2024).
The purpose of the pilot is “to protect the health and safety, and human rights of persons [and] to protect the residential amenity, character and stability of residential areas…”. The implementation of the pilot would be applied to rental properties in wards one, three, four and five, as “they represent the highest concentrations of property standard issues across the city.”
According to a staff report, the City has seen a “significant escalation” in the number of property standards complaints connected to rental housing over the last several years.
The pilot program would require landlords operating in the impacted wards to pay a fee and register with the City of Brampton. They would then be responsible for following set standards and criteria for their properties or face fines for allowing them to deteriorate to a state that could impact tenant health or safety. The City currently has similar programs for those who operate secondary suites, also known as Additional Residential Units (ARU) or basement apartments, which have proliferated across the city over the last couple decades as hyper-growth was not supported by proper affordable housing supply (it has been estimated in recent years by officials at City Hall that at least 50,000 illegal secondary suites are operating in Brampton). The current system requires those who operate secondary suites to obtain a permit. This differs from a licensing regime which would have stricter inspection protocols, according to a city report.
“Licenses generally require zoning approval, regular proof of insurance, annual inspections (i.e. fire and property standards),” the staff report states. “Whereas, the registration process permits a business to operate in a manner consistent with specified rules and regulations as set out by a municipality but does not necessarily require the same safeguards (i.e. annual inspections) as a license.” It puts the business name on a registry list and requires the operator to acknowledge the rules around operating a business.
Staff are also considering the creation of a Landlord Code of Conduct which would apply to those who receive a license through the pilot program.
Tanya Burkart, another member of Peel ACORN who delegated to the City alongside Janey, said she appreciates the effort being put into the program, but said it must be expanded to include multi-residential apartment buildings where many of the problems occur, and for all wards to be included.
Councillor Dennis Keenan told Burkart that, for now, the program would initially only target areas that are most affected “to ensure we get it right.”
“The right thing, obviously, [is] to put it across the city and I think that is our intention over time,” he said.
In its current form, Brampton’s program will not apply to landlords of large, multi-unit residential apartment buildings with staff explaining to councillors the program should first be introduced on a smaller scale before expanding to larger buildings.
While the limited rollout of the program may prevent the City from getting at many of the bad actors associated with large apartment buildings, it could save the City the crushing workload that has arrived as a result of its program for secondary suites or ARUs.
Over the last five years, Brampton has made a significant push to have residents operating secondary suites register those units with the City. It has created a significant workload for City staff. In 2021, the City received 5,732 applications for two-unit dwellings, almost 35 percent of the overall applications it has received since 2015. According to a report from staff this was ten times the rate of applications compared to Brampton’s neighbouring municipalities. It has also led to the delay of critical inspections. In order to ensure these units are safe and habitable, as part of the application process, staff conduct inspections of the interior and exterior of the home. This review, according to the City, is supposed to take only 3 weeks from the time an application is received. In 2022 it took City staff approximately 10 weeks.
Janey and Burkart also raised the ongoing issue of “renovictions” or “demovictions” impacting residents in many parts of the GTA. These tactics are used by landlords to evict tenants under the guise that major renovations need to be done to the building, or the building is being demolished.
According to the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, the current legislative regime surrounding rent increases in the province are responsible for the startling increase in the number of renovictions seen in the GTA. Currently, rent increases within occupied units are tied to the Consumer Price Index and any other rent increases must be justified and approved by the Landlord and Tenant Board. However, if a unit is vacant, the landlord has the power to set rent at whatever rate they want.
Pushing tenants out through reno-or-demovictions is “consistently cited as one of the driving factors behind rising rents in Ontario.”
“Lack of vacancy control provides a massive financial incentive for landlords to evict long-term tenants,” Janey said.
This also creates a significant safety issue for low-income tenants. The inability to meet unaffordably high rent prices pushes people into increasingly desperate situations the longer they are forced to live in precarious housing. This either leads them to accept living accommodations that are unsafe, or seek shelter elsewhere.
The Region of Peel’s affordable housing waitlist has seen an explosion of families in need that began even before the COVID-19 pandemic created financial hardships for many. At the end of 2019 there were 14,997 households on Peel’s centralized affordable housing waitlist. An updated report to Regional Council last year showed Peel’s waitlist grew to a staggering 28,227 households by the end of 2021, an 88 percent increase in just two years. The wait times are failing more and more families who are pushed into desperate situations.
To try and prevent the renovictions partly fueling the crisis, Burkart requested councillors introduce anti-renoviction bylaws, similar to New Westminster, BC, in order to discourage these practices.
In 2021, New Westminster, amended its Business Regulations and Licensing (Rental Units) Bylaw to include a section that would provide protection for tenants who may be displaced by large scale renovation work. If a landlord wished to end tenancy in order to carry out renovations or repairs, they would have to apply for an Order to End Tenancy and an Order of Possession. This would take the landlord into a proceeding where an arbitrator would determine if ending the tenancy is the only way to carry out the renovations. If the landlord’s case passed the proceeding, they would be required to give the tenant four-months notice and an amount equivalent to one month’s rent. The tenant would also have the right to move back into the unit at market rent after the renovation is complete.
The same year New Westminster amended its bylaw, Toronto passed its Inclusionary Zoning policy which gives tenants multiple rights in the case of a demolition, including having the right to stay in their rental unit after receiving a notice of demolition application and to return to a rental replacement unit when the work is done, among other rights.
Mississauga implemented similar measures even before these two cities. In 2018, its Rental Housing Protection By-Law 0121-2018 was approved by council to protect the city’s rental housing supply. A section of this bylaw includes “securing tenants right to return to the replaced or retained rental units at similar rents, and associated notification requirements” as one of the conditions of an approved demolition application.
“The City must replicate rent to replace bylaws that exist in Mississauga and Toronto that ensure tenants have the right to return to the same size and type of unit and the unit will remain under rent control,” Burkart said. ACORN delegates also called for ensuite inspections, as well as a tenant defence fund that has already been implemented in other cities like Toronto and Hamilton.
Planning, Building and Growth Management Commissioner, Steve Ganesh, said staff would have offline conversations with ACORN to review staff reports and discuss any further advocacy efforts.
“We are losing affordable housing far faster than new affordable housing and purposeful rental can be built,” Burkart said.
Story by: Yahoo! News