News / Toronto

Advocates call on province to close loopholes that allow landlords to hike rent

The group of advocates went to Queen's Park to ask for change in the Residential Tenancies Act, which allows landlords to apply for above-guideline increases.

Residents at 1251 King St. W. are currently on a rent strike, protesting an above-guideline rent increase proposal.

Chris Young / The Canadian Press

Residents at 1251 King St. W. are currently on a rent strike, protesting an above-guideline rent increase proposal.

As Toronto housing costs continue to soar, advocates are calling on the Ontario government to close loopholes permitting extra rent hikes that "unfairly offload" maintenance costs onto tenants.

"We think it's a very serious problem because it can hit whole buildings at once," said Kenneth Hale, legal director at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. "It seems to be accelerating, and we are concerned that, without some kind of change of rules, the trend will continue to increase in 2018."

The group — together with the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now — were at Queen's Park on Tuesday, asking for change in the Residential Tenancies Act. The act allows landlords to apply for rent increases beyond the guideline annually set by the province in order to cover the cost of capital repairs.

Last year, Hale said, the Landlord and Tenant Board received a record number of more than 250 applications to increase rent above the guideline. Back in 2012, there were only about 100 such applications.

Hale said landlords have found ways to unfairly exploit that provision to jack up rent.

Dozens of tenants at a building in Parkdale are currently on a rent strike, protesting an above-guideline application from landlord Nupsor Investment. While the hearing on this application has been adjourned, those on strike have already received eviction notices.

Cole Webber of Parkdale Community Legal Services said building owner Michael Lax needs to negotiate with tenants and address their concerns.

"Instead of kicking people out of their homes in the middle of winter, Lax needs to end this rent dispute by withdrawing his application," Webber said.

Advocates are asking the province to restrict the list of reasons landlords can use. Some landlords, Hale said, simply do exterior work like replacing balconies and refurbishing the lobby to make the building look good and attract future renters. He argues that only expenditures that have direct benefits to tenants, like heating system replacement or improvements inside units, should be considered.

"Tenants should also be allowed to have input into what the expenditures should be, if they're going to be asked to pay for them," he noted. "Landlords are already generating enough money from these buildings to absorb the costs of these repairs."

The city's Tenant Issues Committee voted last week to ask the province to provide more data on applications for above-guideline rent increases. Among other issues, the city wants to eliminate general repairs and property maintenance from the list of valid reasons.

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