the potential evils of landlordery

Before I begin today’s rant, let me show you something very pretty that I’ve been meaning to photograph for a long time:

This is a crocheted hat with freeform applique which was made for me by a lovely woman called Cathy from the Freeformations group. It was sent to me while I was in England this past December.

The applique is detachable, and she sent me another one for a different look:

Unfortunately, it’s been too inclement to wear the hat of late. Roll on, spring! (at least it finally stopped snowing…).

Now for the bad news.

First off, I cursed myself by gloating about my progress on the SOTSii, obviously. I had to rip back at least a dozen rows last night and am now very near the start of Clue 3 again. Sob. No more bragging for me (that is, if I can find the SOTSii in the big piles of snow outside my apartment building, having flung it off the balcony!).

Second, I read an
article in the Toronto Star the other day which infuriated me for obvious reasons.

Specifically, the owner of this house in Scarborough (in the east end of Toronto):

subdivided the house into 18 rooms and eight bathrooms, and rented the rooms out to tenants for $400 each. According to the Star,

The two owners of the property were each fined $5,000 for infringing the City by-laws. The earning potential on the house, correspondingly, was $7,200 per month if all the rooms were rented in a given month. I quote from the Star article:

…the [rooming house] landlords are making big bucks off the backs of desperate tenants. The operators rarely flinch when ordered to pay fines because they’re making so much money, city councillors say.

(And, in my experience with this type of landlord I would hazard a guess that that they were, and that the tenants were kicked out illegally if the landlord came by on rent day and the rent was short a bit. The landlord, by the way, lives down the street with this family).

What was even more galling to me: this property was being advertised on the Internet as a place for newcomers to Canada to live, and the web ad offered newcomers a ride from the airport to the house when first they arrived. So, again in my experience, this landlord was likely preying on the relative ignorance of these tenants about the laws in Canada and the living conditions that should be a given here. This level of exploitation, I find disgusting.

The flipside to this problem is that, ironically, in certain parts of the city these houses are being actively shut down because old by-laws in certain neighbourhoods prohibit rooming houses altogether, which leads to atrocious set-ups like this one (the Toronto we know today is comprised of six former cities, all with different by-laws and many which are still not harmonised to date).

So, why is it a problem that these set-ups are illegal in some parts of Toronto? Well, many people simply cannot afford to live any place else. For example, no mention is made in the article of what happened to the tens of people who were living in this house when it was shut down last summer.

I get very depressing in thinking how little the landlord and tenant scheme has progressed since these times:

This is a painting depicting serfs in their living space. Back in those days, peasants (who later became known as “tenants” were bound to the land and dependent on their landlords for protection and justice. If anything, if this is a correct statement of the system then, things seem to have gone backwards as the “protection and justice” elements appear to have gone missing altogether.

And, as ever, it’s these guys who run the show:

So, what is the answer? More affordable housing in the City, I guess… except that the City has virtually stopped building it. Of course, they say there is no money.

How to fund afforable housing projects, then? I say: introduce a small tax on multi-residential private landlords of a loonie ($1) per month per unit that they own. There are over 250,000 private multi-residential units in Toronto (according to these <a href=””>statistics from 2006. So, $12 per unit per year would generate over $3 million which could be invested in portable rent subsidies or in building more affordable housing units.

Why should the private market landlords bear this cost, you ask? There are a couple of reasons:

(a) they make lots of money in Toronto. So much money that, even with a high vacancy rate, they keep the rents elevated and many units vacant. This suggests to me (although I’m not an economist) that they are managing to make money even with buildings which are sometimes up to one third vacant at any given point. Too much money, in other words.

(b) there is an argument to be made that private multi-res landlords would actually benefit in the long run from a scheme (even one partially funded by them) that saw more affordable housing in the City. This is because lower-income tenants end up moving into their units, which they can’t afford, run up arrears (which are often not collectible by the landlords) and then leave. I saw a position paper from the landlord lobby a couple of years ago which estimated the landlords’ fiscal losses at $2,700.00 on average when a tenant is evicted for non-payment of rent. So – less lower income tenants in their buildings, more money for them, no?

Simple, eh? But of course, rent controls on vacant units would have to be introduced (as Mr. McGuinty’s government promised to do several years back and then never bothered!) so that this tax was not passed on to incoming tenants.

Man, when I’m dictator, things will change. Wait for it. The revolution is coming…

Happy Friday!


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