Rental apartments – what to do?

From RentSeeker.ca

Weston and Mount Dennis residents may have noticed that our little corner of Toronto seems to be undergoing a boom in real-estate turnovers and new projects. The reason seems to be our newly acquired 7-days a week, frequent, rapid and reasonably priced transportation to downtown and the airport.

Instead of the usual condos, many new development proposals seem to be for rental apartments. The average rental accommodation vacancy rate in Toronto is 1% and Toronto Council is keen to have more rental accommodation citing a need for 8000 new apartments every year in order to satisfy demand. The Rockport apartments on John Street will be market rate rentals when they open next year.

There is a shortage of good quality rental accommodation because developers have focussed on condos over the last few decades thanks in part to rent controls and the higher cost of building rental apartments. Condo developers can pre-sell units before construction starts and therefore need less money. Rental apartments therefore have greater financing costs and in addition are taxed at a higher rate than condos. This is why there are some new financial incentives for rental builders.

The theory goes that good quality rental buildings will attract empty nesters and free up space in larger homes for families.  More rentals will ease the upward price pressure on rents. This is clearly a laudable goal.

Unfortunately, City planners don’t care where they go. They no doubt have a quota in mind and they’re gonna fill it. Guidelines and restrictions seem to be routinely ignored along with a regard for the needs of a neighbourhood. Rental apartments have to be built and they’ll get built come hell or high water. The problem is that even with generous incentives, apartment builders may end up building as high and cheaply as possible.

A rental apartment building that is poorly built will not command market rents and will end up with a single demographic. It’s recognized that good neighbourhoods have a mix of people.

Looking down Weston Road at Weston’s cluster of mostly rental apartment buildings. Click to enlarge. From Apple Maps. Note that Apple hasn’t updated its map since the UP Express line was under construction.

What to do?

There’s nothing wrong with good quality, well-run rental apartments. Back in the stone age I quite happily lived in a few – they were clean, had nice amenities and were state of the art for the time. Even though we have better tenant protections now, there is a danger that a cheaply constructed building will quickly deteriorate.

Councillor Nunziata and the relevant resident’s groups should therefore lobby hard for buildings built to a high standard that will appeal to a wide demographic.

Plus, new buildings don’t all have to be 25 or 30 storeys do they?

Extra credit reading here.

Have your say about rental apartment licensing

When I was a young lad in some dim and distant past, rental apartment buildings were glamorous creatures. They were modern, had great views, lots of room and everything was included in the rent. Most had a sauna and outdoor pool. For gosh sakes they even had laundry facilities in the basement!

Then in the 1970s, the practice of subsidizing tenants in rental apartments was a cheaper alternative to building public housing. Poor people flooded apartment buildings and with rising incomes, middle-income earners began to abandon rental housing. For the most part, rental apartments became the domain of the poor and were synonymous with shabby conditions and health issues. Conditions steadily deteriorated and ten years ago, in Weston, the two towers at 1765 and 1775 Weston Road were in atrocious condition and the subject of bitter complaints. The federal government stepped in with forgivable loans and millions were spent upgrading rental buildings.

1765 Weston Road in 2012 (file).
1765 Weston Road pictured in 2012 (file).

Nowadays, renting is the only option for many people in the current real-estate market. While conditions have improved, many buildings are poorly maintained and it is felt that legislation concerning these buildings needs an overhaul.

The City of Toronto wants to hear from its citizens about licensing rental apartment buildings. According to the City,

The intended goal of the licensing framework is to build on the current Multi-Residential Apartment Building Audit Program by promoting best practices in building maintenance, strengthening enforcement of property standards violations, and improving tenant engagement and access to information.

The public and stakeholders will have an opportunity to:
• contribute to establishing goals and objectives for a licensing framework
• create recommendations related to current challenges and/or gaps in regulation; rules governing the operations of rental apartment buildings such as maintenance and cleaning plans; enhancement of the current building audit program, including enforcement of property standards; and improved public access to information about rental buildings, and
• submit their own recommendations for improving tenant living conditions.

The meeting for our area will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, August 24: Etobicoke Civic Centre, 399 The West Mall, Meeting Room 1/2/3, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.