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It's Time for Vacancy Rent Control

Rents in Ontario are on the rise again. While our wages, pensions and support payments stay the same, landlords are taking a bigger and bigger chunk of our income to feed record-breaking profits. Tenants know that if they lose their home, or want to move, the cost of a new apartment could drive them out of their neighbourhood and possibly their city. We see the consequences of the housing crisis in the rise of homeless encampments and the violent police response, renovictions and economic evictions, an overflowing and broken shelter system, and deepening poverty.

One solution would solve many of these problems: Vacancy Rent Control.

Vacancy Rent Control means that when a tenant moves out of their unit, the landlord can only increase the rent for the new tenant by a small amount (if at all). Rent rates are provided in a publicly accessible central registry, so tenants know how much the previous tenant was charged. Instead of leaving tenants at the mercy of the out-of-control housing market, vacancy rent control keeps rents affordable (or at least stops them from becoming more unaffordable) and keeps more of our hard-earned money in our pockets.

Right now, in Ontario, a landlord can charge a new tenant any amount they want for a vacant unit - this is called vacancy decontrol. Once you have rented a unit, your landlord can usually only increase rent by a small amount each year (or they can apply to charge you more through an Above Guideline Rent Increase). But the longer you stay in your unit, the less profit the landlord can make since they can almost always charge a new tenant more money. 

Rents are rising way faster than wages. In 2019 the rental wage in Toronto was $27 for a one-bedroom apartment, almost double the minimum wage at $14.00. The combined effect of vacancy decontrol and above guidelines rent increases (AGIs) mean that existing affordable rental stock is being systematically eroded and there is almost nothing being built to replace it. In fact, CMHC housing data show that between 2011-16, fifteen existing affordable units were lost for every new affordable unit built in Canada. The result is that the erosion of “‘naturally occurring affordable housing’ (NOAH) units is one of the most serious threats to Canada’s supply of affordable housing”. 

Racialized people, new immigrants, women, young people, and people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by these processes. These groups are more likely to be in core housing need, lack affordable housing, live in unsuitable or overcrowded housing, and/or live in housing in need of major repair. 

I already have an apartment, so why does this affect me? 

Landlords have no reason to keep you on as a tenant when they could be charging somebody else 30% more in rent. In fact, they might find unfair reasons to evict you (ex. renovictions), apply to evict you for minor reasons (ex. you've paid your rent late for several months), or make your living situation so unbearable that you have no choice but to move (for example by allowing essential services such as heating, ventilation and electricity to fall into disrepair, or by undermining your sense of safety due to malfunctioning entry-exit doors, out of service elevators, ignoring illegal activities on the premises, etc.). This happens all the time. 

Vacancy Rent Control is an essential part of any plan to "build back better" in the wake of the pandemic. What good is a wage increase, or Universal Basic Income, if your biggest household expense - your rent - is out of control? This is just more money in landlords' pockets, many of whom are multi-billion-dollar corporations or Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) (also known as "financialized landlords" - accountable to shareholders and not to tenants).

Vacancy rent control is not only about the economic logic of profit and financialization. It is also fundamentally about the health and wellbeing of people and communities. Vacancy rent control provides people with security of tenure – the right to stay put – which is recognized by the UN as a cornerstone of the right to adequate housing. 

The FMTA and tenants across Ontario support any legislative action to adopt Vacancy Rent Control

Big landlords try to argue that any form of rent control will lead to less rental housing being built. But the data show that this is simply not true. Ontario's decades-long experiment with vacancy decontrol has failed to produce anything close to the volume of new housing we need to meet demand. 

Most of the big landlords who oppose rent control do not build housing, they buy it, squeeze tenants for AGIs or renovict them, and then jack up rents when old tenants can no longer afford to live there. They argue that if they cannot gouge new tenants, they cannot afford to maintain buildings, despite making record profits year after year and padding the pockets of investors. In fact, these same landlords are on the record stating that the combination of weak rent control and low levels of new supply make for an ideal environment to return massive profits to investors. 

The results of Ontario’s 25-year vacancy decontrol experiment are clear: rather than spurring construction to end the housing crisis, it created conditions in which financialized landlords could reap enormous profits from its exacerbation. It created huge incentive for landlords to renovict tenants from their homes. Vacancy Rent Control will not bring an end to profiting off of the human right to housing - but it will end the disgusting levels of profit that landlords are seeing today.

We do not have to accept rent gouging and an ongoing housing crisis. We must demand an end to limitless landlord profiteering. We must fight for Vacancy Rent Control.

The Board of the FMTA

October 12, 2021