The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations (FMTA) is reaching out to Toronto condo renters in an effort to help them form their own association. As Geordie Dent, executive director of the FMTA explains, the city’s condo boom over the past decade has given way to a surge in condo renters.
“Seventy per cent of the development in the city of Toronto has been condominium development; only about eight per cent has been purpose-built rental,” he says. “What this means, and one of the things our board of directors realized, was that almost all new rental housing in the next decades is going to be condo rental.”
The rise in the number of condo renters has been matched by a rise in the number of calls the federation receives from this type of renter. These calls still represent only a fraction of the calls the federation receives over all — by Dent’s estimate, 5–10 per cent — but it’s a chance for the agency to be proactive rather than reactive, he says.
The federation has found that condo rentals come with some of their own unique concerns, including communication with condo boards and landlords, responsibility for the cost and completion of repairs, and improper charges and lack of rent control.
Condo tenants don’t have a defined legal relationship with condo boards, Dent says. Rather, tenants and boards both have a legal relationship with the landlord-unit owner.
“This doesn’t mean that a tenant and a condo board can never communicate or never deal with issues together,” he says. “It just needs to be clear who’s supposed to do what, who’s got the legal responsibility to do things, and how the relationship is defined.”
Exacerbating communication difficulties is when landlord-unit owners are hard to reach, and in some cases live overseas. This also contributes to the challenges of getting repairs done.
In purpose-built rentals, the chain of responsibility for repairs is straightforward, Dent says. If a unit and its contents are damaged by water emanating from a neighbouring unit, the landlord is responsible to compensate the tenant and fix the damage. If the neighbouring tenant is responsible for the damage, the landlord can then seek to recover his costs. In condos, it’s not as clear, he says. It becomes a question of whether the condo corporation, landlord-unit owner or the neighbouring unit owner is responsible.
On the issue of costs, it’s also illegal to charge tenants for items such as key deposits and elevator rentals under the Residential Tenancies Act. But Dent says that boards do this anyway. The condo board can levy these types of charges, but they must be levied against the unit owner.
“This is something called the cost of doing business,” he says, “so it might be a charge that should be included in the tenant’s rent that the landlord forgot about, but it’s not supposed to, under any kind of legal regimen, fall on the tenant.”
What’s more, condos built after 1991 (which is many of the condos in Toronto) are exempt from rent control under current legislation.
Both the FMTA and Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario have contacted the Ministry of Consumer Services, which is currently overhauling the Condominium Act. An expert panel’s report making recommendations to the government on legislative reform was silent on issues around tenants.
“I think a clear process could help everyone — the condo board, the landlord, the tenant,” Dent says.
Meanwhile, the FMTA is taking the lead on co-ordinating an association specifically for condo tenants. Due to the isolated nature of condo living, he says, renters may not know their neighbours well. In addition, neighbours may be a mix of owners and renters, and renters in a single building may all have different landlords. Dent says that ultimately, once the newly formed association is set up with interim leadership, it will determine how best to proceed.
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.