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Metro Cities: How cities are offering up relief for renters

From free lawyers to longer leases, a look at what renters have in cities around the world.

With rental markets seemingly getting harder and harder to navigate, some cities are getting creative to make life easier for renters.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

With rental markets seemingly getting harder and harder to navigate, some cities are getting creative to make life easier for renters.

While housing prices may be cooling somewhat in the country’s hottest markets, it can seem like there’s little relief for renters. Some provinces, including Ontario, have looked at rent control and standardized leases, but many renters are still facing soaring rents that outpace their monthly salaries. Metro explores what other cities are doing, from free lawyers to longer leases, to learn about the tools available to renters around the world:

NYC low-income tenants get lawyers to fight evictions

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio signed an act this month that guarantees low-income tenants access to lawyers when facing eviction, reported CityLab and other New York City media.

According to CityLab, the legislation ensures that everyone getting evicted whose income is 200 per cent of the federal poverty level or less will get a lawyer, in an effort to make it a more legal playing field when going up against landlords with lawyers.

At Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board, the tribunal where disputes are decided, you can bring a lawyer to represent you, but many tenants can't afford them.

Moving in with ... grandma and grandpa?

Without a steady income and forking over thousands for their degrees, students face some of the toughest challenges as renters.

That's why several Western University music students in London, Ontario will move into a retirement home in the area this fall. They'll get free rent in exchange for volunteering 10-12 hours per week playing music for residents. It's a first in Canada, but was based on a similar program in Cleveland, Ohio, according to a release from Oakcrossing Retirement Living.

Longer leases

In Swiss cities such as Geneva, five year leases are common.

While they may be unattractive to people working precarious jobs, or just trying out a new city, advocates argue that having a five- or 10-year lease allows people to put down roots in a community without buying.

With a five-year lease tenants know, for example, that their children can stay in the same school.

Vacancy tax:

Vancouver already has one, taxing owners one per cent of the unit’s value. People can avoid it if they rent out the property.

Ontario's April Fair Housing Plan gave Toronto the power to enact one. City staff are doing consultations and will report back to council this fall with recommendations on how it could work.

Google for tenants (and landlords)

In the French cities of Paris and Lille you can find out if rent for a new contract is too high or low by entering a location and size on a free website called Encadrement des Loyers. It's designed to give everyone a better idea of how much an apartment is actually worth, and if leases follow new laws.

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