Can anything be done to cool Toronto's hot rental market?

Hundreds of tenants and landlords shared their stories, now experts and decision-makers with the city and province weigh in.

Hundreds of tenants and landlords shared their stories, now the policy-makers add their voices

Toronto city councillors plan to push the province to revisit the so-called 1991 rent control loophole. (Canadian Press)

Hundreds of stories about renting in Toronto, from both landlords and tenants, have flooded into CBC Toronto's inbox and our special Facebook group on housing, since the launch of our series, No Fixed Address.

From your horror stories — tenants seeing sudden rent increases and landlords dealing with nightmare renters — to our detailed look at the data, a picture is emerging. Prices are up and supply is down in recent months in Toronto's rental market.

One real estate agent used the word "ridiculous" in an interview with CBC Toronto.

But first, let's take a breath. Is this really any different from what came before?

Yes and no, says Sheila Block, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

A look at the data on the cost of renting in Toronto over the last 30 years shows other steep rises in rent in the late 80's and then again in the late 90's and early 2000's, she said in an interview.

One difference, said Block, is that our incomes haven't grown proportionally.

"In the late 90s, early 2000s, people had a lot better ability to pay. That was a time when there were more well-paid mid-level jobs in Toronto," she said.

Other factors, including the so-called 1991 rent control loophole that CBC Toronto recently reported on, the squeeze on social housing, and the burgeoning short-term rental market, also come into play, creating what Block describes as a "perfect storm."

Amanda, 27, is one of more than 1,200 people who've joined our Facebook group on housing woes in the city. She says she`s having a hard time saving for any kind of future here. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Where do we fit into the rest of Canada?

Toronto rent isn't going to be going down anytime soon, according to Bank of Montreal senior economist Robert Kavcic.

The reason Vancouver and Toronto are seeing sky-high rents, he says, is that that's where the jobs are. 

"The Albertas, the Saskatchewans, parts of Atlantic Canada that were driving job growth up until 2014 are starting to lose jobs consistently. B.C and Ontario have more than picked up that slack," he said, adding that the bulk of that Ontario job growth is converging in the GTA. 

He contrasts Toronto to places like Regina, where vacancy rates are up and rent is down. 

"If you look three years out there's probably a chance we slip back into recession at some point," which could ease the pressure on the rental market in Toronto.

"But the bigger regional rotation that we've been talking about is probably not going to change any time soon," said Kavcic. 

Province 'taking steps' to address lack of rentals

Ontario Housing Minister Chris Ballard says the province is acting.

"There's been a real lack of affordable purpose-built rental accommodation right across Ontario for many years now," Ballard told CBC Toronto.

"We are taking steps to change that." he said.

"We need to find other ways, creative ways, we can spur on the development and really let the supply and demand for rental accommodation play out."

We need to find other ways, creative ways, we can spur on the development and really let the supply and demand for rental accommodation play out.- Chris Ballard, Ontario's Housing Minister

He points to legislation announced last year, aimed at boosting affordable housing units.

It allows communities to establish so-called inclusionary zoning policies, meaning new housing proposals would require developers to include a certain percentage of affordable units to be approved.

Vancouver and Montreal have similar policies, as do many major cities in the United States.

"The concern is how do we balance the impetus to build and make sure that developers and builders are willing to build, they get a return on their investment, against the needs of tenants so they are not overcharged," Ballard explained.

Ballard said he's also taking a closer look at rules around secondary suites — like self-contained basement apartments or units above laneway garages.

Toronto city staff cited privacy concerns — that secondary homes might overlook their neighbour's backyards or cast shadows — among their reasons in a 2006 report that recommended against allowing laneway housing. (CBC News)

In theory, the move could benefit both Toronto's renters and homeowners.

For property owners, it would translate into an extra unit to cover the mortgage and house adult children or relatives. But it's also a way to cool down the long-term rental market, which has seen supply shrink alongside the rise of AirBNB, studies have found.

Realtor and developer Imran Latif says relaxing some of the red-tape around secondary suites would help small investors like himself and his clients.

"The by-laws are ridiculous," said Latif, who runs the Toronto Property Couple — a real estate firm — with his wife Winnie.

He says a client recently bought a house at Pape Avenue and Danforth Avenue, and got city approval to build two rental units, even though the home had no parking. Latif says he bought a home in the same neighbourhood, and was hoping to build a basement apartment. The property came with one parking spot.

"They refused our application because they said each unit needs a parking spot," said Latif. "One street down, the regulations were completely different."

City councillors plan to push province on rentals

City councillors Ana Bailao and Josh Matlow agree more needs to be done to help developers, small and big, build dedicated rental units. 

The key, they believe, is better incentives.

City councillors Josh Matlow and Ana Bailao are calling for 'real reforms' on rent control at Queen's Park. They're planning a special meeting this April and they want tenants, landlords, and developers to contribute their ideas and experiences. (Grant Linton/CBC)

"You need a cash flow. You need a longer-term investment and that needs to appealing. The regulations and incentives, all the way from the federal government to the city, need to be in place," said Bailao, who's also the chair of the city's affordable housing committee.

"We need to work together to reform this," she added. "It's in everyone's best interests. That's how we're going to achieve change and help people, who are being pushed out from our city."

CBC Toronto talked with several young people who felt forced to leave the city when faced with rising rent and little hope to purchase a home one day.

Kayla Hurst and her boyfriend now call Thunder Bay - a whopping 17-hour drive from Toronto - home. (CBC)

"If young people have to move out of the heart of our city because they can't afford it, it destroys the social cohesion of Toronto," said Matlow, the chair of the city's tenant issues committee.

"It means the very people who work in the city have to live outside of the city. It means longer commute times, traffic gridlock, less time with your family and friends," he said.

"We don't want Toronto to be only the playground of the rich."

We don't want Toronto to be only the playground of the rich.- Josh Matlow, city councillor for Ward 22 and chair of the city's tenant issues committee.

Next month, Matlow and Bailao will host a special joint meeting of the Tenants Issues Committee and Affordable Housing Committee.

They're hoping tenants, landlords, and developers will take part.

The councillors also plan to press the province to reform what Matlow calls the 'giant loophole' in rent control that allows landlords to raise rents by hundreds of dollars a month in apartment buildings built after 1991, while strict rent controls apply to rental properties built before that year.

"Whether they are young professionals, or seniors or in between, they are finding their rents unexpectedly go up, and they find themselves having to move out of their homes and community," said Matlow.

"There are too many tenants across our city who don't know their rights or don't have enough rights through legislation at the province."

The No Fixed Address Series

CBC Toronto is examining your struggles to find affordable and livable housing in Toronto.
We've gathered a panel of stakeholders in the city's rental and housing market to offer analysis and insight and take your questions.
Join CBC Toronto's Shannon Martin for a 30-minute interactive discussion on the CBC Toronto Facebook page on Thursday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m. ET.


Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.

With files from Kate McGillivray