London Mulls Making Landlords Pay For Parties

The city is known for epic illegal student street parties – also known as FOCO – or “fake homecoming”.

London, Ontario is a party town, evidently. In a classic case of municipal policy clashing with provincial, this month, London city staff suggested to increase the maximum fines for nuisance parties to $25,000. This was in response to an insane illegal street party that flooded a street near Western University with 20,000 revellers in September. That event completely overwhelmed police, sent 57 people to hospital and prompted warnings from law enforcement that future street parties could easily cost a life.

As per the CBC, social media videos that showed students “brewfing” — literally drinking beer while climbing onto roofs and even jumping off them. Emergency services couldn’t access the street that this was occurring on.

Fines are going up, but more importantly, the municipality also proposed amendments to the public nuisance bylaw that would allow the city to pursue tenants — and landlords — to recover costs from cleanup and damage.

“Where an absentee landlord … takes no action to prevent, end, or clean up after a nuisance party, they may be subject to invoicing,”

This is almost as crazy as the parties themselves, at least according to Joseph Hoffer. He’s a lawyer representing more than 600 members that make up the London Property Management Association. His position is that landlords are prohibited from controlling the conduct of their tenants under the province’s Residential Tenancies Act. Some of the more interesting suggestions that city staff have made is for landlords to hire private security, something Hoffer is adamant is illegal.

“The effect of the bylaw is to compel landlords to do something illegal, and that’s repugnant. There seems to be an assumption built into the bylaw amendment that landlords can control the actions of their tenants, and that assumption is fundamentally flawed.”

The committee voted to ask staff to review the bylaw — taking into consideration the legal concerns raised by Hoffer — and report back on May 28. What do you think?

Quebec Landlords Introduce No Weed Clauses In Leases

July 1st, 2018 marks the day the drug will be legal, but landlords are taking steps to ban smoking and growing pot in units which fuels what will ultimately be a national debate

Under Quebec’s proposed marijuana law, residents will be allowed to use marijuana recreationally in their homes but won’t be permitted to grow cannabis for personal use. Many landlords have already sent notices to tenants informing them they won’t be allowed to smoke weed in their apartments. According to the CBC, landlords are introducing clauses and conditions to get a handle on what many, if not most, assume will be an emboldened and more casual approach to smoking pot.

Kevin Lebeau, a spokesperson for the Quebec Landlords Association, thinks most people find the odour and presence of marijuana unpleasant and believes landlords need to act in the best interest of all of their tenants – including many who he believes will be vehemently against it.

“It diminishes your enjoyment of your apartment. For some people it is a health issue and other people don’t want their children exposed to this at all.” -Kevin Lebeau

In a recent association poll, a majority of members anticipate a significant increase in tenant complaints. As a result, a comparable majority has also indicated they plan to prohibit smoking marijuana inside their buildings altogether. This has put them directly in conflict with various tenant rights groups across the province who are questioning whether the smoking prohibitions will be legal once marijuana itself is legalized. The tenants’ association of Sherbrooke, Que., argues that banning tenants from smoking marijuana inside their homes will be discriminatory after July 1st. Other tenant’s rights advocates argue that since they are paying for the apartment, they should be entitled to consume cannabis or cigarettes without fear of consequence. Any position to the contrary is discriminatory.

“The landlord doesn’t have the absolute right to do whatever he or she wants at any time.” – Kevin Wright, tenant’s rights advocate.

Opinion: Neither does the tenant

Here are the facts. As of right now, marijuana is nationally illegal. Most Canadians support legalization and regulation of what is widely perceived to be a generally benign substance that has been vilified and historically  mischaracterized in the media and by the government for decades. Many, if not most people, consider it something that has benefits for those who suffer and those same people, generally speaking, consider it to be a substance that is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, which are both legal and regulated, and have been for years.

There is no law preventing you from smoking or growing cannabis in a rented unit. If your consumption or growing of marijuana impedes the use or enjoyment of another tenant’s unit or creates an issue for the landlord themselves (the landlord reserves the right to have a preference for a smoke free building or unit), then there is a problem. The landlord can pursue a provincially supported judgement against the tenant or an eviction if that is the case, and they should have the right to do that.

We need to ask ourselves if anything is served by conveniently dismissing certain realities or creating false equivalencies when it comes to this issue. Societally, we appreciate the right to clean air, personal space, and health. That’s why we have laws when it comes to not smoking in restaurants, in cars with children, or on planes.

“Smoking” cannabis is defined as the inhalation of smoke or vapors released by heating the flowers, leaves, or extracts of cannabis and releasing the main psychoactive chemical, Δ9tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs. When you smoke weed, in most cases, the process is creating a smell. That smell comes from compounds made in the plant called terpenes or terpenoids. Not all weed stinks, but in the vast majority of cases, it will produce a noticeable scent. It can and often does, smell bad, and lingers in homes and apartments – much like cigarette smoke. It’s also a psychoactive substance. Exposure to the second hand smoke of cannabis is not exactly pleasant for anyone, kids or adults.

We put value on consideration and respect for other people’s rights to enjoying their environment and space. Why doesn’t that apply here? Because it is treated and increasingly categorized as a medicine for people? Because it is inevitably going to be legal? Because people have been unjustly jailed and discriminated against because of their weed habits? Because we feel people need to get over their own hang ups and misconceptions about a natural plant that has never been the cause of death when prescription drugs and booze kill more people in a day than weed ever has? Because the time is now to make people’s lives better with deserved access to something that will reduce suffering? All of the aforementioned might be true – but we got off topic pretty quickly there.

Alcohol is legal, however, if you were producing small batches of potato vodka out of your apartment without your landlord’s knowledge, and that process was impeding the enjoyment of the unit for others or created an elevation of fire risk or informed the environment in a way that was not in the interest of the owner (i.e. odour), would we be crying foul? What entitles us to do whatever we want in a rented apartment? If a landlord wants a smoke free environment, then why is that discriminatory? What is preventing people from smoking outside – like we ask them to do in most places like hospitals, libraries, or museums currently? You should be able to do whatever it is you like in a home you own, but when you’re renting, the landlord has a reasonable right to preserve the unit he is leasing to you and protect the interests and rights of the other people who do the same thing – because – they own the premises and assume most if not all of the risk. If you that doesn’t work for you, then you have the right to find a place that does.

 

Landlords Have Legitimate Issues with Canada’s Half Baked Legislation

The Federal government didn’t bother to get into specifics on upcoming marijuana legislation.

The tabled cannabis law proposes allowing Canadians to grow 4 plants per person at home – whether they own or rent, provided the plants aren’t taller than 100 centimetres. It sounds benign when it’s framed as a new and progressive law – which in many ways it is – however the practical implications of the legislation are something that a growing number of national and provincial landlord groups aren’t happy with in the least. The government has not said if landlords will be able to prohibit tenants from growing pot in their apartments.

The Professional Property Managers Association and  The Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations are both looking to compel the government to change this aspect of the law. They both seek a ban on tenants growing plants in rented homes or multi-unit buildings. Full disclosure: we also support this change in the law as it is rooted in common sense. We touched on some of the complicated aspects of growing marijuana in a rented unit – particularly the insurance nightmare it has the capacity to create.

“I think the government is obviously balancing a lot of issues here. They do want to break the black market, and that’s important. But we think we can break the black market if they let people [only] grow it in their own owner-occupied homes, and the product is readily available in stores or by mail order.” -John Dickie, Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations

Optimal conditions for growing marijuana include warm temperatures, extensive lighting and high humidity. In order to grow weed, you need these three things. Creating the hydroponic conditions in a residence in an effort to achieve this key trifecta is not something you can do without affecting the domicile in some capacity. That’s just a fact. Water that is fed to plants will transpire and evaporate from the containers into the surrounding air. Cannabis plants also require warmth. Excess water vapour and high temperatures can create humidity damage. Large mold accumulations can follow and grow fast in humid environments and can lead to structural decay.

To boot, unusually high amounts of steam coming from vents in winter can damage exterior finishes on houses. The smell of weed seeps into drywall the same way tobacco smoke does, and even when it’s not being smoked, marijuana can create a permanent odour that can be repulsive to people – like other tenants and incoming ones in the future.

The electricity required for lighting in even a small cultivation of weed is high. It also introduces a fire concern with having that much botanical lighting in a house – and that’s assuming that a tenant doesn’t re-wire the electrical in a home (which they can’t do). Most wall outlets are on a 15-amp, 120 volt circuit. Many outlets are generally on that one circuit. One 1,000 watt metal halide or high pressure sodium light draws 9 amps at 120 volts. So just by using one of those plugged into a wall outlet, you have already significantly maxed your circuit – and that’s not taking into account the other devices, computers, or appliances that are also typically in a unit. Maxing a circuit is not a good thing. Your circuit breaker (if it’s working properly) may shut down your circuit because you’ve overloaded it. Your wiring may heat up, flame up, short out or otherwise fail. Lastly, there is an increased fire hazard danger due to people drying marijuana in a household stove.

Even four plants in a building can change the risk assessment on a property, and creates a greater likelihood of water damage, mould, fire, vandalism and burglary. Under most basic home insurance policies, marijuana-related damages or anything that companies believe is “high risk” is not covered. That view is shared by many insurance companies, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“Landlords currently have little recourse available if a tenant is growing medical marijuana and aren’t required to be told if it’s happening” -Avrom Charach, The Professional Property Managers Association

Under new federal rules introduced last August, landlords are left a little high and dry (no pun intended) if a tenant is growing licensed medical marijuana. They don’t even have the right to know it’s happening. None of that is right. The federal government should formally include a clause in the Cannabis Act including restrictions on any and all rented dwellings or they should at least mandate that provincial legislation needs to compensate for the loophole this creates.

 

 

An Argument Against Rent Control To Deal With Ontario’s 1991 Rent Exemption

Living in Downtown Toronto Condos Is Not A Right.

We made the news this week! The CBC’s Lisa Naccarato called me on Monday to offer a comment on Ontario’s 1991 Mike Harris rental “loophole” – apparently a controversial topic for many who live in Toronto. Toronto city councillor Mary Fragedakis moved a motion Tuesday that would see council come out in support of a private member’s bill at Queen’s Park that would extend rent control to apartments built after 1991. Her motion supports NDP MPP Peter Tabuns’s private member’s bill aimed at eliminating what he also refers to as the “loophole”. I don’t agree with eliminating this exemption and I’ll tell you why. Before we get into that…let’s start with a few facts.

FACT: Rent control in Ontario only applies to units that were first built or occupied before November 1, 1991. If the rental unit is in an apartment building constructed (or converted from a non-residential use) after November 1, 1991, then the rent control provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006 do not apply.

FACT: The post-1991 rent exemption was originally introduced by Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government. It’s been maintained over time by Mike Harris’ PC provincial government (they made it permanent) as well as the governing Liberals. A low vacancy rate dropped even lower as developers were disincentivized by the regulated rental market for the freedom of condominiums. The exemption provided the incentive that private developers needed to build much of the existing condo stock as we know it and to recover from years of virtually no rental increases at all. Any changes to this incentive will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the market and real estate development (especially outside of Toronto where vacancy rates can vary) – not to mention the construction that is currently in the pipe.

FACT: 85% of rentals in Ontario are covered by provincially mandated rent control.

FACT: It’s an exemption – not a loophole. These are two fundamentally different things. A loophole is defined as an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law. There are plenty of those in Ontario’s Residential Tenancy Act. This exemption was intentionally legislated. While it is undoubtedly true that many tenants have seen their rents increase significantly and at considerably more than the mandated provincial increase, there is no evidence to suggest there is widespread abuse of the exemption or that it qualifies as enough of an urgent issue that it needs legislative intervention.

FACT: Ontario’s Residential Tenancy Act heavily – almost hilariously – favours tenants. It always has. It favours tenants so much that Ontario Superior court justices have called for the provincial government to adjust the law and end what is a growing issue of tenants gaming the system. In 2014-15, the Ontario LTB received 79,740 applications. The ratio of landlord to tenant applications has remained relatively constant since 1998. 2014-15 was no exception, with 90% of applications filed by landlords. 70% of those landlord applications filed were related to non payment of rent. A stated purpose of the Residential Tenancies Act, 2006, is to balance the rights and obligations between landlords and tenants. It’s plainly clear that the law in fact does the opposite. The last thing landlords need is another short sighted unfair law that hobbles their ability to run their property portfolios as a business.

FACT: This issue is logical hogwash and is politically motivated. As per Martin Regg Cohn at the Toronto Star, “…rent hikes are a result of reduced supply and increased demand, which is what puts pressure on politicians for rent controls, which then depresses supply even further. Extending rent controls to newer (costlier) units would benefit the middle and upper class more than the working class (who tend to be stuck in older units anyway). Why target rentals while exempting the rest of the real estate market, notably the housing speculation that is driving much of the current crisis? It’s much cheaper and politically popular for governments to make landlords swallow foregone rent increases by imposing or extending price controls (vs. housing subsidy vouchers).”

“In the mid-1970s, NDP firebrand Stephen Lewis seized on media accounts of landlords gouging tenants. He goaded the government of then-premier Bill Davis into promising rent controls lest his Tories lose power. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But history is littered with good political intentions — and contortions — that create economic distortions.”
– Martin Regg Cohn, Toronto Star 

FACT: Condo landlords have it tougher than the average landlord. The owner of the condominium will have fixed, predictable costs in the form of mortgage payments and property taxes, but the maintenance fees (commonly called condo fees) can and often change – sometimes dramatically. Condo landlords are bound by two pieces of provincial legislation. The lease agreement is between the owner and the tenant and that relationship is still governed by the Residential Tenancy Act, 2006, in Ontario. However, within the building itself, the Condo Act has precedence and landlords are responsible to make sure that their tenants follow condo rules.

FACT: Landlords want tenants. If they raise prices above what the market is willing to pay then rent will adjust accordingly. The vacancy rate is low for a reason. It takes an average of only 17 days to rent a condo in Toronto. The city averagely sees 200,000 new people move to the 416 area code each year. This issue is supply and demand. Not greedy landlords.

Housing speculation is driving much of the current crisis. Toronto is clearly a city where people want to live. Hundreds of thousands have come here from around the world. Young people want to live where the action is as gentrification has firmly rooted itself.

I admire ethical landlords. I admire ethical tenants even more. Most landlords and most tenants are both. My solemn advice to any landlord who has a Toronto unit that falls under the exemption: Act in good faith. Be straightforward and upfront with your tenants. Tell them that your unit qualifies as exempt and explain the degree of exposure that exists. Be empathetic about having to potentially uproot your living arrangement and consider the discomfort, hassle, and inconvenience associated with losing your home after a year. Ultimately – a happy long term tenant is better than expensive turnover. Exercise common sense, and demand that politicians do the same.

 

Toledo’s Landlords Slow On Lead Safe Ordinance

In the summer of 2016, Toledo became the first city in Ohio to pass a law that prevents lead poisoning in the most at-risk children by requiring home inspections of rental properties. The “lead safe” ordinance calls for some rental properties built before 1978 to be inspected and deemed safe before leasing to tenants. Unfortunately, the city’s landlords have been slow off the mark. As it currently stands, landlords have until September 17, 2017 to gain the certification. Those who fail to comply are facing fines of $50 per day per dwelling unit with a maximum annual penalty of $10,000 per unit. Five months into Toledo’s passage of the law, only 22 properties have completed the steps necessary to be in compliance. As per the Toledo city paper; Chapter 1760 of the Toledo Municipal Code, also known as the Lead Safe Rental Ordinance:

The ordinance states that no property owner of a building built before 1978 with one to four rental units may permit people to live in the unit or provide child-care services in the structure without obtaining a lead-safe certificate for the property.

The average can of paint in the 1900s to around 1950 contained up to 50 percent lead carbonate. For 50 years, the U.S. used lead based paint extensively. 40 years ago, political leaders declared war on lead paint, citing evidence that even small amounts of lead can have awful effects on young brains, intellectual growth and cardiovascular, immune and hormone systems. The federal government began phasing out leaded gasoline in 1975, and banned lead-based household paints in 1978. In 2000, a federal strategy was deployed to end lead poisoning in children within a decade.

This all produced the desired effect. By 2006, blood lead levels in children under 6 had fallen to close to a tenth of their 1970s levels. But that positive momentum has since almost stopped. By the most recent estimate, about 37 million homes and apartments still have some lead paint on walls and woodwork, 23 million with potentially hazardous levels of lead in soil, paint chips or household dust. The Ohio Department of Health has identified 18 high risk ZIP codes in Lucas County. High risk ZIP codes contain at least one census tract where 12 percent or more of children tested in 2001 had blood lead levels of 10 micrograms and are further defined by demographic and socioeconomic data. One academic study predicted more than 3,400 children in Toledo have lead poisoning – an appalling statistic. The Ohio Department of Health estimates that approximately 19,000 children in Ohio have lead poisoning.

Any rental properties constructed prior to 1978 and in-home daycares constructed prior to 1978 will need to register with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department and obtain a Lead-Safe Certificate. If a Local Lead Inspection takes place and the property passes upon the first inspection, the Lead-Safe Certificate is valid for six (6) years. If the property has undergone Lead Abatement in eliminating lead hazards consistent with the Ohio law, the LeadSafe Certificate is valid for twenty (20) years. According to the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, inspections are likely to cost somewhere between $200-400, depending on the inspector. Considering the circumstances, this is an ordinance that makes sense. The consequences of not complying with it are considerable.

Guys, You Should Tell Your Landlord If You’re Going To Grow Pot.

A grow-op, whether legal or not, is still a high-risk activity

In August of 2016, Health Canada expanded rules for medical marijuana patients through the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. They were granted the right to access their cannabis three ways.

First – They can register with Health Canada to grow a “limited” amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes. Second – Designate someone else to grow it. If a patient is not healthy enough to grow their own, someone else can provided they pass a background check showing they haven’t been convicted of a drug offence in the last 10 years and aren’t growing for more than two people, themselves included. Third – Getting it from one of 34 Health Canada-approved producers — the only legal source under the current laws.

Seems great, right? Not really. At least not from the perspective of landlord and retired fire inspetor Darryl Spencer. Go Public at CBC News told his story in full force last week, shining a light on what is increasingly becoming a complicated issue.

Spencer has owned a rental property in Kamloops, B.C. for over 10 years. After receiving complaints from one of his tenants about radiating heat from the floor and electrical breakers tripping, he discovered his basement tenant’s legal (albeit scattered and poorly set up) grow set up. The tenant received a medical marijuana license, enabling him to grow up to 60 plants without the permission or knowledge of his landlord. After learning of the development, he disclosed to his insurance company that he had a legal set up for the plants supported by a license from the federal government. His reward? Losing his coverage and having his policy cancelled.

Since last year’s new rules, landlords have little to no recourse if a tenant is growing licensed medical marijuana. They don’t even have the right to know it’s happening. You read that right. Under most basic home insurance policies, marijuana-related damages or anything that companies believe is “high risk” is not covered. That view is shared by many insurance companies, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, since a greater likelihood of water damage, mould, fire, vandalism and burglary exists.

While regulations may allow for the legal growing of marijuana for medical purposes, it does not change the structural risk grow-ops pose to homes and condos – Andrew McGrath, Insurance Bureau of Canada

So in other words – a tenant’s privacy trumps the rights of a property owner – at least as far as the federal government is concerned. Besides being ridiculously short sighted and ill considered, to boot, the government is leaving it up to the municipalities to enforce whether the grow set ups are safe. The problem with that is federal privacy rules prevent local authorities from knowing where marijuana is being grown. There also is no system in place to proactively check if tenants are growing the allowed number of plants and following their permit.

The federal government’s role is to ensure people who need medical marijuana have access – Jane Phillpott, Health Minister

Two months after his policy was cancelled, Spencer ended up finding a new insurance company that specializes in domestic cannabis-operations. The coverage cost almost twice what he used to pay and has a much higher deductible. The story has a happy ending though.

Go Public contacted Gore Mutual, Spencer’s original insurance company. They offered to reinstate Spencer’s policy for almost the same amount he used to pay, to which Spencer took up.

 

Absolute Idiocy On Unpaid Electrical Bills in Prince Edward Island

In another fantastic assumption that landlords are rich, entitled building owners, the wise city councillors in Summerside, Prince Edward Island are contemplating what to do about unpaid electrical bills in the small town of just under 15,000. The city takes in $20 million a year from the utility with the majority of people paying on time, however, after council “discovered” 1.3 million dollars of delinquency, all these city councillors determined the problem needed to be decisively addressed. Their proposed solution? Landlords should pay the bill. Seriously.

Summerside’s Director of Finance, Rob Philpott said involving landlords is just another option for council to consider that if for whatever reason the tenant is unable to pay in a timely matter or doesn’t pay at all, then landlords could potentially be held accountable for that. “There are 225 landlords in the city. It is safe to stay that if they became aware that they might be liable for the debt of a tenant who skipped out… it would generate a lot of attention,” added Philpott. If passed, this new law would affect residential, commercial, and industrial units.

If the municipality passed this law tomorrow, and also got all 225 of these landlords to foot this bill, they’d be looking over $5700 a piece.

City councillor Frank Costa thinks this is a step in the right direction. “Landlords have a collective responsibility to the city to ensure that we are not alone in having to absorb delinquent accounts,” added Costa. “If it is communicated well and there is an education process out there, I think people will recognize the value of this. I think we are giving them notice.”

Fellow councillor Tyler DesRoches disagreed.

“We are not signing up the landlord for the power; we’re signing up their tenant. The landlord has no idea whether or not their tenant is paying on time.”

Coun. Gordie Whitlock owns rental properties and agreed with DesRoches.“If you have a consistent collection policy with a consistent cut off time as to when the final notice is given after there is no attempt to pay, then there is no need for the landlord to be involved whatsoever,” said Whitlock.

Why the city doesn’t consider a more aggressive policy with respect to it’s unpaid bills is a head scratcher. Why the 1.3 million dollars in unpaid bills even occurred in the first place is interesting. The city of Summerside services 6950 customers. It’s reasonable to expect this utility to manage its accounts better. That’s their job! If they can’t wrap their heads around it, as a municipality supported for profit organization, how do they expect the small city’s 225 private landlords to be any better? Why should the city’s landlords accept this? How would the city’s landlords manage this any better? Are they to open their mail? How would landlords manage this as a new issue? Is not paying your electrical bill immediate grounds for an eviction? How many chances would someone get to settle up their electricity bill? This seems like a remarkably short sighted, objective ignoring, illogical, precedent setting idea. Utilities can and do ask for deposits in advance, engage collection agencies, cut off service and sue the tenants. Landlords have to wait until the tenants move out and then initiate a small claims suit at their own expense. What this whole idea represents is a desire to see electrical utility delinquencies at zero, improving the cash position of the municipality, at the overall expense of the landlord.

Time to go back to the well, city councillors.

Perfect Storm For Landlords in Alberta

The slow down in the oil patch is affecting Alberta’s major city residential landlords. Seriously. The market was once quite hot. Now…not so much. CBC reported a doubling of the vacancy rate late last year.

Edmonton is a renter’s paradise right now. Economic slowness, coupled with more supply than demand in terms of available units, has flexed adversity on Alberta’s landlords. Vacancy rates have increased steadily since last year, and now range from six to eight per cent, depending on property type. The average rent in Edmonton and the surrounding area has dropped between 10 and 15 per cent from a five-year high in July 2014. This has been forcing landlords to get creative about attracting tenants and signing leases, including free Wi-Fi, amenities, groceries, and even flat screen televisions as part of rental agreements. We touched on this phenomenon in Halifax late in 2013, when landlords there were offering free iPads to prospective tenants.

In Calgary – a city where mayor Naheed Nenshi famously criticized what he considered rent gouging in 2014, things are not that much better. Rents have fallen astonishingly fast. A 20% drop in January of this year from the beginning of 2015. The Calgary Real Estate Board is anticipating that the vacancy rate will rise to 7% by the fall. By the fall of 2017, CMHC expects the vacancy rate in the city to decline back to 5.5 per cent. Calgary’s 2016 civic census revealed that while the city’s population increased slightly to more than 1.2 million in April, more people moved out of the city than arrived here. More than 20,800 units were empty in April, a 67 per cent spike over last year’s levels, which brought the vacancy rate for dwellings to 4.3 per cent, according to the census. According to the Financial Post, the vacancy rate hasn’t been this high since 2004, when the city reported the lowest level of migration in 12 years. A city hall analysis of historical housing data shows there are more vacant units in 2016 than in any of the past 16 years. To put this into perspective, Canada’s national vacancy average for urban centres is 3.3 per cent.

Even rural cities in Alberta have been affected.The Government of Alberta annually conducts the Rural Apartment Vacancy and Rental Cost Survey of multi-family dwellings in Alberta’s rural communities between the months of May and August. This survey does not include cities whose population is more 10,000 people. Vacancy rates have increased and decreased in a cyclical pattern with vacancy in rural Alberta communities being on an upward trend, having risen 3.7 per cent in 2014, up to 8.2 per cent in 2015. Not only are vacancy rates up in general, in a number of communities they are at their highest point since 2006.

Experts say the next big hit to the market could come in the spring, when many leases typically come up for renewal. Not good.

Questions? Comments? Are you a landlord in Alberta? We’d love to hear from you.

No… Tenants Can’t Just Airbnb Their Place in Quebec

It seems like you can do everything on the internet these days. Airbnb is and has been a wonderful way to make a bit of extra cash when it comes to renting out your home, cottage, or vacation property. Things can get a little dicey though, when you don’t own the property in question. In Quebec, you need to get your landlord’s approval first. The province’s rental board (Régie du logement) recently reached the decision when it ruled on a case involving a Montreal tenant who rented out his downtown condo to tourists on Airbnb.

The landlord rents the luxury one bedroom unit for $1,770 per month. After receiving numerous complaints related to transiency, smoking in hallways, and a general change of pace, the landlord determined the tenant was renting out his unit on Airbnb for more than double the rent he was paying. Landlord gets miffed. Increases the rent by $1000 a month. Tenant refuses said rent increase. Bad bing/bada boom – you’re in front of a judge.

The province handed down the landmark precedent setting decision in one fell swoop. The board ruled that tenants cannot rent out their apartment to tourists without getting the landlord’s approval first.

“The message that these lucrative sublets sends to landlords is that the value of the unit does not represent the value of the rental market,” the board concluded. “The frequency, the difficulty in verifying the identity of sub-tenants, the inherent risks … are all issues that can be raised,” the judgment read.

A cornerstone element of this decision was that the province felt that it was clear the dwelling was being rented out for commercial purposes, not residential, which is what the original lease itself was predicated on. The ruling indicated that tenants are required to get their landlord’s approval prior to doing anything on Airbnb, and that the landlord has 15 days to refuse if they don’t approve. The ruling also indicated that the landlord cannot spike rent because a tenant decides to list a unit on Airbnb, which in essence is encouragement by the province to get tenants and landlords to partake in a healthy meal of being reasonable and co-operative. All in all – tenants can’t do anything without clearing it by their landlord first. A logical ruling. Lastly – a tenant who lists their unit on a home-sharing site cannot charge more than the price of rent.

In an effort to be fair and balanced, Airbnb does provide some good tips for using their service, which include but are not limited to, maybe mentioning to your landlord that you’re sub leasing your place to strangers for an assumed profit. If you’re thinking about starting an Airbnb business on the back of your landlord, you might want to consider reading this paper by Lapointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon.

Excellent work, Quebec! Supress the hustle.

 

What Is Up With Mayors and Mayor Hopefuls Piping Up About Landlords?

I don’t get it. Naheed Nenshi told Calgary’s landlords to be “ethical” last week and not gouge tenants. Ok fine. Now -Toronto mayoral hopeful Olivia Chow is on the campaign trail saying she’s going to introduce stiffer measures for bum landlords who don’t maintain their properties. Some of the things that bother her are broken light fixtures, peeling paint, and bedbugs.  It bothers her so much that she wants to create a city task force of sorts, that would issue display grades – much like they do for restaurants – on rental properties. Yeah because landlords in Ontario don’t have it tough enough already. Can anyone sense my sarcasm?

While negligent and reckless landlords should unreservedly be penalized and dealt with, I think it’s important to remember that Ontario (Ms. Chow is running for mayor of Toronto) is a province with legislation that is very tenant friendly. While the system isn’t perfect – it’s the one we have. Tenants have as many applications to make to the Ontario LTB as landlords do. They have remedies. The Ontario act is also very clear in terms of what landlords are required to do and what they’re required to provide. Every province – and as indicated this month on the blog, even every state  – is different. Toronto, and the greater province of Ontario, does not need yet another layer of bureaucracy or a grading system.

There are bad landlords. George Woolsey comes to mind. They’re not fair, they don’t follow the law, and they have little to no concern about your well being. Flop houses and housing environments that are hazardous and not suitable for residence need to be handled. Everyone is entitled to live in a habitable and safe environment – BUT – I don’t think this warrants an election plan from a mayoral hopeful. Just like Naheed NenshiOlivia Chow is suggesting that something needs to be done on a municipal level about this in Toronto.

Like with most things, there is always good and bad, but it’s important to remember that there are also bad tenants. I don’t think Ms. Chow is labelling all landlords as “bad”, but I think she’s proposing something on the election stump that has the capacity to indirectly just make it harder for the majority of landlords in Ontario that are reasonable, responsible, and solid. The only good laws are the ones that are balanced and strike harmony between all of the interests in the mix. As much as I strongly dislike some of the aspects of Ontario’s act, on it’s face, it’s generally balanced. It is however the epitome of a “second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chance” kind of legislation and isn’t necessarily fair for landlords in many cases. It’s pretty easy to game the system and exploit a situation in the nation’s most populous province. Making money or even breaking even isn’t exactly easy here.

Mayors should be less concerned about trying to admonish landlords. That’s not their job…and there has to be an easier way to address properties not fit for habitation – if it’s in fact enough of a problem in Toronto that an elementary grading system needs to be introduced –  than making our job harder than it already is.

Questions? Comments? We wanna hear ’em!