‘Toronto solution’ to apartment building inspection is a no-start for committee


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London’s system for tackling unresolved breakdowns in rental accommodation isn’t working – on that, politicians and tenants agree.

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Where they differ is how to change that reality for the tens of thousands of people who rent their homes across the city.

A push to examine a proactive inspection system for apartment blocks in London – modeled on that of Toronto – was narrowly shot down at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Community and Protective Services Committee, even as tenants and defenders demonstrated in front of the town hall.

“I’m not sure Toronto’s solution is London’s solution,” Mayor Ed Holder said. “Injecting money immediately into the situation and throwing all the owners into this mix makes no practical sense to me.”

City staff advised against a program like Rent Safe TO which includes an assessment of almost all rental properties every three years. Those who score poorly on an initial assessment are audited more closely.

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A motion filed by Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer to develop a business case for the program in the next multi-year budget failed on a tie vote.

Helmer and Councilors Maureen Cassidy and Mo Salih voted in favour. Holder and councilors Mariam Hamou and Steve Hillier opposed it.

Helmer pointed to statistics from the Toronto system that have seen assessment scores rise from 65% to 70% since the inspection program began several years ago. Complaints have also skyrocketed from 6,000 a year to almost 10,000. Most complaints are answered within three weeks, he said.

“We don’t want to just allow people in for no reason,” Helmer said. “We want . . . better living conditions for people in rental housing.

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Letting problems fester is no small feat, he said.

But City Hall staff said it would take dozens more by-law officers and fire prevention officers to start inspecting unlicensed London rentals. Apartments and townhouses are exempt from City Hall’s rental license rules that apply to single-family homes.

In an earlier debate, staff said 37 new bylaw officers would be needed to conduct annual inspections of every tenancy in the city. Toronto employs 33 full-time staff to operate its program.

Instead, staff suggest streamlining existing processes, such as creating a single email and phone number for tenants to report issues or file complaints. They are required to notify the owner in advance.

Absentee and out-of-town landlords letting their buildings fall into disrepair are a major problem in London, staff say. In rare cases where the security of the tenants is threatened, the town hall will take corrective action and invoice the landlord.

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Fines can also be imposed for breaching London regulations, such as property standards. Blitz inspections are carried out in areas with a high volume of complaints, which makes more sense than inspecting trouble-free buildings, said bylaw boss Orest Katolyk.

ACORN London, a lobby group pushing for better inspections, held a rally outside City Hall on Tuesday. One leader said the lack of action from city staff and politicians was “maddening.”

“It’s not just a good idea, it’s a key idea right now. We’re in a crisis (with housing) right now, but it’s heading for disaster,” Jordan Smith said of the rent inspection system, citing soaring rents.

“They don’t even bother to justify why they don’t implement the program. . . the Toronto Rent Safe program has been effective. Not only has this improved the standard of living for some of the most vulnerable Torontonians, but it has also proven to be economically viable,” he added.

Smith said ACORN will not let go until changes are made in London.

“We all understand the need for a program like this as ground zero for core accountability. Doing nothing during a time of unprecedented crisis is simply unacceptable.

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