Minister Chris Ballard spoke about the upcoming changes on Thursday, following the announcement of an NDP private member’s bill promising much the same thing — and a CBC Toronto series focusing on the fallout the limited safety net for renters has created for young professionals in this city.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable that renters are facing the pressure that they’re facing today,” Ballard said in an interview with CBC Toronto’s Dwight Drummond. “So we’ll be bringing forward legislation that expands on the rent controls that are currently in place.”
Ballard’s comments come a few hours after NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said he would table a private member’s bill that calls for an end to the so-called 1991 rule, which exempts property built after Nov. 1, 1991 from provincial rent control.
Younger renters and those in lower socioeconomic brackets appear especially vulnerable to the law’s recent effects. They’re being priced out of buying a home and pushed into a competitive rental market with a one per cent vacancy rate for condo apartments, something CBC Toronto documented in a series of profiles.
Former premier Mike Harris’s Tory government made the 1991 loophole law in 1997, saying that it would spark developers to create more apartments to address what was considered a stagnating rental supply.
But tenancy advocates argue that the move didn’t spur the necessary level of rental property development — and Ballard told CBC Toronto that he agrees.
The minister said that he’s “absolutely” open to revisiting that particular segment of the law.
That increase has been set at 1.5 per cent for 2017. And a landlord must provide 90 days notice before the increase can legally come into effect. Currently, there are no such regulations for properties built after November 1991.
A number of landlords’ and tenants’ associations that reached out to CBC Toronto as part of the No Fixed Address series say the 1991 rule has created a “two-tiered system.”
Ballard didn’t say whether that same annual increase guideline that affects pre-1991 properties could blanket newer rental properties as well.
Earlier Thursday, Jim Murphy, president and CEO of the Federation of Rental Housing Providers, said that rental regulations help to maintain some security for investors, and changing the rules will create uncertainty.
“Now is not the time to make changes that would adversely impact investor confidence,” he said in a telephone interview.
But the housing minister said that any changes would balance the issue of limited rental supply with the need to increase protection for renters.
The number of condo apartments rented through the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) during 2016 in the Greater Toronto Area dropped by two per cent to 26,602 units, according to a January report released by Urbanation, a real estate consulting firm. That’s the first annual decline since it began monitoring the data in 2011.
“I know that supply is still an issue in Toronto — it’s still a big issue — so I don’t want to do anything that’s going to put too much of a chill on the building marketplace,” Ballard said. “Something has to be done and the focus right now is taking some of the pressure off of our tenants.”
He noted that the province made changes to the Planning Act in 2011, which encourages municipalities to create bylaws that allow homeowners to rent out a basement or secondary suite. When the change came into effect, the province said it would help with the supply issue for renters and reduce the burden on homeowners.
Right now, the condo apartment vacancy rate in Toronto sits at one per cent — the city’s lowest in seven years.