Toronto councillors to landlords: Keep the air conditioning on
Warm temperatures and a misunderstood city bylaw have left some residents baking in their units, councillors say
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“Maybe the gods are listening,” says the second-floor resident of an apartment tower near Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave. as a breeze blows in from her sliding glass door.
It is little respite in her 274-unit building at 44 Jackes Ave. during an unseasonably warm September after management shut off the air conditioning earlier this month.
“They don’t even tell you where to go to talk to somebody because they don’t want to talk to us,” said the woman, who is retired and not in good health. She, like other residents, declined to give her name. “It’s not very nice here at all . . . . This is the way it’s always been.”
Councillors say tenants across the city are currently living in “intolerable” conditions, with some residents reporting temperatures in their units as high as 30 C.
At a press conference Wednesday, tenant issues committee chair Councillor Josh Matlow and board of health chair Councillor Joe Mihevc urged landlords of buildings with air conditioning to keep it on through the heat wave.
“There are a significant number of people who are baking in their homes right now,” said Matlow (Ward 22 St. Paul’s). He called on landlords to “use common sense.”
Landlords genuinely wanting to be compliant with a city bylaw governing rented units are misunderstanding the rules, the councillors said.
The bylaw dictates a minimum temperature of 21 C between Sept. 15 and June 1st. But the bylaw does not say air conditioning must be turned off, or that the heating system must be turned on starting Sept. 15, Matlow said.
“There’s nothing in there that says flip the switch,” he said. “So, if Mother Nature isn’t taking care of it, yes, flip the switch, get the boiler going, get the heat on. But in this case, everyone in Toronto knows that Mother Nature is working overtime. So, she’s taking care of the heat. I want landlords to take care of their tenants.”
Mihevc said his Ward 21 (St. Paul’s) office has been “inundated” with calls from those in hot buildings. In some older towers, the councillors said, centralized heating and cooling systems act as ventilation as well. And rules restricting how much apartment windows can open have exacerbated the problem.
“One of the residents in one of these three buildings actually had to be hospitalized because of the lack of ventilation,” Mihevc said.
The councillors said landlords worried about the time it takes to switch over from air conditioning to heating if temperatures drop quickly won’t be prosecuted by the city’s bylaw enforcement for using their best judgment and doing their due diligence to comply with the rules.
Management at 44 Jackes Ave. did not immediately return requests for comment.
In the long-term, Matlow said Mayor John Tory is supportive of a review of the bylaw to allow for greater clarity and nuance to better protect tenants’ health. Matlow said he hopes changes will come this spring.
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