My sister used to live in a sleepy little town called Houma, Louisiana. There, she lived in an apartment that she shared with a friend. She paid about $900 a month in rent. After one year, her landlord told her he was increasing her rent by a whopping 50%, to $1,350 a month. That is a big increase most people can’t afford. But I was content to know was that this could never happen in Ontario. We have strict rent controls that prevent landlords from increasing our rent by big percentages.
Or so I thought.
Ontario does indeed have rent control. The law prevents landlords from increasing rent by more than the percentage outlined by Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Over the past 15 years annual rent increases have ranged to as high as 3.9% in 2002 to a low of .7% in 2011. Although any rent increase is never good for a tenant, this law does a good job controlling their levels. If a landlord wants to increase someone’s rent by a higher rate than the Ministry’s guidelines, they have to argue their case to the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal.
But here is the problem with the law: any property built after 1991 is exempt from our rent control rules. That means thousands of landlords across Ontario who own and rent out condos have the power to dramatically increase rents to any rate they like. And there is growing evidence they are taking advantage of this loophole.
One couple in Toronto last year watched their rent nearly double from $1,375 to $2,500. They now have to move out and find a new place to live. One retired couple in Bowmanville had their rent go up by 32%. That is a huge increase for a couple, who are in their 90s, living on a fixed income. Although the company who owns the apartments claim the rent increase is due to “market forces” which are completely out of their control, the reality is that renting property is one of them most stable investments for someone to make. In Toronto, demand really doesn’t go down. Everyone needs a place to live. Without rent controls, renters are more affected by “market forces” than landlords are.
Sometimes landlords will abuse the loophole by doubling their rent to get rid of a tenant. Even though they may be model tenants, sometimes landlords believe they can bring in new tenants who are willing to pay higher rates.
The provincial government should begin to review our existing rent control system. The huge growth in condos over the past 20 years has created a new rental market that isn’t regulated like older apartments. We need to make sure landlords can’t just double or triple their tenants’ rent.
If uncontrolled rent becomes more common in Toronto, families will be forced to live together in shared housing in houses and apartments across the city. I don’t want that to happen in Ontario. Let’s extend our rent control rules to all apartments, regardless of when they were built. That is the best and easiest way to keep rental costs affordable.