Key Toronto committee endorses plan to prevent renovictions

The City of Toronto has taken a step toward cracking down on illegal renovictions after a committee of councillors approved a plan to regulate how landlords renovate their properties.

The Planning and Housing Committee voted to direct city staff to develop a bylaw that would attempt to curb the practice, which tenant advocates say is growing. They say the regulatory change would prevent landlords from evicting people by claiming they plan to renovate a property only to then increase the rent and find a new tenant.

A long line of deputants decried the practice and said it's contributing to the housing affordability crisis currently gripping Toronto. Lawyer Karen Andrews from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, told the committee that the city needs to act.

"The landlords have been relentless in trying to create vacancies so they can make more rent," she said. "It's about not following the law. It's about illegality.... The city has to act, and the city can act."

Under the law, any tenant displaced by a renovation to their rental gets first right of refusal when the work is complete. But lawyer Karly Wilson, from Don Valley Community Legal Services, said it's up to the tenant to keep tabs on their landlord and enforce their rights. In most cases it isn't practical or effective, she said.

"As it stands, there is nothing in place to confirm that landlords are actually doing the renovations they say they're going to do and there's no way to ensure that tenants are being offered their legal right to move back in when those renovations are done," she said.

"The onus is entirely on the tenant, the tenant who has recently just been displaced from their home to catch a landlord doing this in bad faith."

Tenant and housing advocate Marcia Stone urged Toronto city councillors to look to Hamilton as it creates its renovictions policy.
Tenant and housing advocate Marcia Stone urged Toronto city councillors to look to Hamilton as it creates its renovictions policy. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Advocates press city to prevent renovictions

The committee voted Thursday to give city staff the go-ahead to create a regulatory regime to crack down on the practice. Staff will spend the next five months consulting with stakeholders and developing the policy. It could include requirements for landlords to get building permits for any rental renovation that requires a tenant to vacate the unit and a requirement to cover the cost to re-house a tenant.

Advocates say those clauses, and active enforcement from the city, could help eliminate renovictions.

Marcia Stone, a renter and chair of Weston ACORN, told the committee that staff don't need to look far to find an example of a municipal renovictions policy. The City of Hamilton passed a bylaw this spring that Toronto should emulate, she said.

"You're not reinventing the wheel," she said. "Just call Hamilton and find out what they did over there and adapt it to our laws here."

Hamilton's bylaw, which is set to take effect Jan. 1, will require a landlord to apply for a city renovation licence within seven days of issuing an eviction notice to a tenant.

It will only allow the eviction and renovations to take place if the landlord has already secured all building permits to complete the work and provides an engineer's report confirming vacancy is necessary. The landlord will also need to make arrangements with any tenant who wants to return to their unit once the renovation is complete.

Push for renoviction bylaw started in 2019

Coun. Paula Fletcher urged her colleagues to give staff permission to create the bylaw in an emotional speech at the meeting. She's been pushing for the policy since 2019, and said many people have been evicted in that time because of the practice and the city could have prevented it.

"Really and truly, they did have a right to stay there," she said, pausing to hold back tears. "They've had to leave their home. So, it's taken a long time for us to get to this point."

Fletcher stressed that the cost to replace affordable rental units in the city has grown to over half a million dollars each. The city can't afford to lose any more of them given the state of Toronto's housing crisis, she added.

"We cannot build new affordable housing as fast as landlords could renovate people from good rent in buildings that have been stable for many years," she said. "And it's just time to step up and make this a reality."

Coun. Brad Bradford said while he supports aspects of the policy, including requiring a landlord to get a building permit to do the work on a rental unit that displaces tenants, it will likely land the city in court as landlords fight it, he said.

"It's a nice idea," he said. "It's aspirational, but I wouldn't expect this to go unchallenged."

But committee chair, Coun. Gord Perks, said the city must act because the province has done nothing to address the growing problem. It could have passed legislation to prevent renovictions but has not yet brought it into force.

"We're frustrated that the province of Ontario who could fix this with a stroke of a pen and hasn't done anything," he said. "And we're taking leadership because we actually care about the people we represent."

Municipal Affairs Minister Paul Calandra's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plan will come before city council for debate at a meeting later in June. If it's approved, a renoviction bylaw and possible team of bylaw officers to enforce it, could be in place by late 2025.