For thousands of Torontonians, being a tenant will soon be different. Passed yesterday by City Council, a new By-Law will give new protections to many Toronto tenants, with any building of three or more storeys and at least 10 units required to be operated by a licensed and registered landlord. Meanwhile, Council also voted to support Provincial legislation that would extend rent control to residences completed after 1991. 

The new regulations mean that landlords will have greater—and more transparent—legal responsibilities towards their tenants. Spelling out a clearer regulatory framework of landlord obligations, the new "By-Law for Apartment Buildings" sets out concrete guidelines covering a range of issues, including maintenance, security, waste management, general cleanliness, essential repairs, and pest control. 

Landlords will also be required to keep detailed records of repairs, services, and tenant requests, with the 24-month logs used to ensure adherence to the new regulations. Bringing greater oversight to landlord activity, the City will also be able to "conduct inspections, issue orders for compliance, take remedial action and take any other enforcement activities," the legislation notes.

Apartment towers in Toronto's densely populated St. James Town, image by UT FlicApartment towers in Toronto's densely populated St. James Town, image by UT Flickr contributor AshtonPal

In an effort to ensure effective long-term maintenance, landlords will also be required to have a state of good repair and capital plan, made available to the Municipal Standards and Licensing Committee. The MSLC will also be tasked with "conducting routine site visits and pre-audits of all buildings to determine whether the buildings are in compliance with this and all other City by-laws."

Coming into effect on July 1st, the By-Law was near-unanimously supported by Council, with a commanding vote of 40-1 carrying the resolution. The sole voice of dissent was Ward 7's Giorgio Mammoliti, who argued that the additional resources necessary for landlords to meet the new standards would inevitably be passed on as increased costs to tenants. By contrast, the majority of Councillors celebrated a By-Law that seeks to improve living conditions city-wide and bring oversight to negligent landlords.

Alongside the new By-Law for Apartment Buildings, Council voted to support a private member's bill coming before Provincial parliament. Tabled by NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, the proposed bill would expand Ontario's rent control legislation to include units completed after 1991.

As it stands, the so-called '1991 loophole' means that annual rent increases for more recently constructed units are not capped. Rental apartments that were first occupied before 1991 are subject to strictly regulated maximum annual rent increases. For 2017, the annual increase is capped at 1.5%, with each year's maximum based on the Consumer Price Index. While a new rate can be set after a tenant moves out—since rent controls are tied to leases, not units—ongoing occupants are protected from steep year-to-year rent increases.

Brought into effect under Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris, the dissolution of rent controls for units built after November of 1991 was meant to spur greater development. In making rental development more profitable in the long-term—since property managers can continue to increase prices—the removal of rent controls was intended to ease supply constraints, and thereby promote overall affordability. The basic rationale behind the legislation was that a greater infusion of supply would temper demand pressure, meaning that overall rents would rise at a slower rate. 

While greater infusions of supply can help provide an easier foothold into the market for new renters, the lack of rent control has very obvious—and often severe—drawbacks for existing tenants. If the market rises sharply year-to-year, then current tenants can often find themselves priced out of the units they already occupy. This is the case in Toronto, where record price growth has put significant pressure on the market, creating precarious affordability problems for renters of newer units, which include the growing number of privately leased condos on the secondary rental market.

Condo units form an increasing proportion of the rental market, image by UT FlicCondo units form an increasing proportion of the rental market, image by UT Flickr contributor Brady Baker

Carried by a vote of 32-11, the motion to support the Provincial legislation proved somewhat more contentious than the new By-Law for Apartment Buildings. This time, Mammoliti was joined by a larger contingent of right-leaning Councillors, including Mike Ford and Denzin Minnan-Wong, as well as Mayor John Tory. 

While the Council vote has no legal weight in terms of influencing Provincial policy, the vote was intended to send a message to the Provincial Parliament, underlining the City's crisis of housing affordability. Nonetheless, a similar motion to pressure the Provincial Government to extend rent controls passed near-unanimously at City Council in 2013, yielding little tangible result. 

According to Ontario Housing Minister Chris Ballard, however, the Province now aims to implement updated rent control guidelines for newer units, addressing the approximately 110,000 Ontarians who currently live in units without rent controls of any kind. Since the pending legislation has not yet been tabled, however, the extent to which these issues will be addressed remains unclear. 

We will keep you updated as more information becomes available, and the Municipal and Provincial policies continue to take shape. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment in the space below this page, or add your voice to the ongoing conversation in our Forum