Although it looked like a fire-trap, when you were at the club the other night you were pretty confident that it passed fire code. After all, there are inspections for that kind of thing. So you had a good time and the next morning enjoyed a greasy breakfast at a nearby diner without fear of salmonella. Running late for your interview at the apartment you hope to rent, you grab a cab to get you there on time. Afterwards, munching on a hot dog purchased from a licensed vendor, it hits you. Of all the activities you engaged in since last night, the only one in which the city of Toronto doesn't take an avid, avuncular interest is your rented apartment.
Four shivery, cockroach-plagued years after the inception of restaurant inspections, tenants may finally get the respect they deserve. The city is working on a strategy for proactive inspections of apartment buildings in order to ensure they comply with provisions of the Toronto Municipal Code.
Under city staff's proposal, buildings or building operators would be licensed - a system that's similar to Dinesafe, Toronto's successful eatery licensing and inspection program. Regular inspections would be funded largely through licensing revenues. Staff have proposed two options: either licensing the buildings, or, less directly, licensing the operators (which would not allow for routine inspections, only limited audits).
There would even be a Web disclosure system where you could go online to check out bad landlords, like the "conditional pass" signs on restaurants that don't quite make the grade.
"It's long overdue," says Dan McIntyre of the Federation of Metro Tenants Associations.
At last week's planning and transportation committee meeting, staff were given the green light to move forward with details. Council will vote on the proposal January 27.
But two things may stand in the way. The first is the province, which would need to remove a regulation in the Municipal Act in order for the city to proceed. The second is Brad Butt, exec director of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association, who urged against rushing into a system of licensing and inspections.
"The city's remedy is to use a baseball bat to kill a mosquito," Butt says, arguing that a few bad landlords are tarnishing the rest. His deputation inspired another amendment to the proposal: the addition of public properties like social housing and co-ops to the list of inspectable dwellings.
According to Butt, the current system, in which tenants need to initiate complaints before repairs are done, works just fine. He dismisses concerns that language barriers and fear of landlord reprisal may inhibit renters.
For now, the landlord lobby is willing to work with the city and intends to take part in planned consultations. The idea, in Butt's words, will be to "try to get council to water down the recommendations."