Seeing cockroaches every day in your home is not just unpleasant, it is downright traumatic. I lived in an apartment infested with cockroaches and seeing them crawl across my daughters books and toys has left both of us jumping at the sight of bugs. Not to mention my daughter still suffers from nightmares of the critters months later. Eventually, I couldn’t remain in that infestation any longer, so I packed up and left my apartment — but many people have no choice but to stay and live in these unfit conditions.
On June 8, city council voted 33 to 6 to move forward with a landlord licensing bylaw, a motion that will enforce annual inspections to ensure landlords are following acceptable building standards. The program would be similar to ‘Dine Safe’, which licenses restaurants in Toronto. The inspections would include surveying each apartment building and in-suite to ensure that it is following Toronto property standards, including not having bed bugs, cockroaches, and sufficient heating among other things. The city has proposed licensing for 3300 apartment buildings that are three storeys or higher.
On Wednesday, the Tenant Issues Committee amended and adopted the proposed Landlord Licensing program, which is ready to be presented to city council next week. City staff recommend adopting a bylaw that would enforce harsh penalties if landlords didn’t comply with municipal standards. The bylaw would also be financed with 20 per cent recovered from the tax base and the remainder would be covered by fees and penalties. The program would also mandate that landlords provide tenants with the Tenants Rights Handbook and more online tools to educate people on their rights in their homes.
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has been working towards landlord licensing for 12 years and is on the forefront of demonstrating just how terrible the housing situation is for many Toronto residents. ACORN released a survey Tuesday that summarized the collective responses of 174 Toronto residents living in subpar conditions. Ninety-five per cent of respondents reported they live in conditions that violate property standards.
Cockroaches were found to be the number one complaint, with 83 per cent of tenants reporting cockroaches in their home. Out of this staggering statistic, 31 per cent of respondents see cockroaches every day in their apartment. This type of infestation is said to cause respiratory issues, especially in children.
When people move into their homes, 69 per cent of respondents report they needed repairs in their unit the day they moved in. “Building has upgraded the lobby at least six or seven times in the past 10 years but I would practically need to bleed and beg to get a 10 dollar toilet seat or a new 30 dollar kitchen fan,” one of the ACORN respondents said in the survey.
In 2008, the landlord licensing program was dismissed and the City of Toronto introduced the Multi Residential Apartment Building (MRAB) audit program. MRAB has come under fire because there is a mandatory fee that tenants must pay to get an inspector to come look at the building, and the process is reported to be abysmally slow. Many tenants are aware of MRAB, but don’t know how to call 311 to lodge an official complaint. Tenants also reported eventually give up trying to get help from the city because of a lack of results and high costs.
Landlord licensing is a good alternative because it would include a mandatory annual inspection of common areas, boilers, elevators, electrical systems and pest control. It would require landlords to pay a small fee for every unit in the building and city inspectors could maintain the standards without burdening the city budget. Licensing would ultimately be better for the city, tenants and landlords because it would provide more accountability similar to restaurant licensing.
Landlord licensing is still being drafted for council and is due to be presented sometime in the fall. As a Toronto resident who lived in low-income housing, I urge the city to act quickly. Before 2017, Toronto could be on its way to ensuring appropriate housing standards across income levels, which is essential to the health of the city overall. Living in unfit conditions is one of the worst experiences a child can have and it creates a potent sense of fear that permeates their lives. Instead of feeling like the way only way out is moving, the city should be protecting its children and enforcing acceptable living standards in homes. Every child deserves a fit home, don’t you agree?