Ombudsman to investigate Toronto's heating bylaw after landlords turn off AC amid rising temperatures

Toronto's ombudsman has opened an investigation into the bylaw governing the heating and cooling of the city's apartment buildings, as some landlords have reportedly turned off the air conditioning during a late September heat wave that has settled over the region — with temperatures expected to rise above 30 C this weekend.

'There's something wrong with the bylaw,' Coun. Josh Matlow says

Midtown resident Jamie Thom says the temperature in his apartment has climbed into the high 30s after his landlord shut off the building's air conditioning last week. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Toronto's ombudsman has opened an investigation into the bylaw governing the heating and cooling of the city's apartment buildings. Some landlords have reportedly turned off the air conditioning during a late September heat wave that has settled over the region — with temperatures expected to rise above 30 C this weekend.

"I am very concerned by reports that some landlords believe that the city requires them to turn on the heat in their buildings as of Sept. 15, regardless of the temperature outside," Susan Opler said in a statement.

Opler announced Friday the inquiry will determine whether the city's policies, practices or actions have contributed to the problem. 

The bylaw responsible for the confusion dictates that all apartments must be at a minimum temperature of 21 C between Sept. 15 and June 1.

Opler has called for all residential landlords in the city to immediately turn off the heat in their buildings until the current heat wave is over.

"This presents a real risk to the health and safety of tenants," she said in a news release. 

Opler's announcement comes a day after Mayor John Tory pledged to review and reform the bylaw in the spring because there have been so many issues with how it is being interpreted. 

'There's something wrong with the bylaw'

"There is nothing in the bylaw that says you have to flick on the heat or turn off the AC," said Ward 22 Coun. Josh Matlow, who also chairs the city's tenant issues committee. 

In the last week, both Matlow and Board of Health chair, Coun. Joe Mihevc, have urged landlords of buildings with air conditioning to keep it on.  Matlow and Mihevc both say they've been flooded with calls from constituents in stifling apartment buildings where temperatures have climbed to the high 30s. 

"I've been on the phone for days and days talking to landlords, trying to convince them to turn their central air on," said Matlow.

O'Shanter Development Company, which manages Thom's midtown apartment building, claims turning the air conditioning back on isn't 'just a matter of flipping a switch.' (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The city has also received 300 calls and 15 emails about hot rental units since last Friday. 

Health impacts of hot apartments

Environment Canada has issued a heat warning for the city this weekend, when it could feel like 40 C with the humidex — and the unseasonably warm temperatures are expected to stick around. 

"For this time of year we are way about where we should be and we're getting into record territory," said Geoff Coulson, warning and preparedness meteorologist for Environment Canada. 

Toronto Public Health officials are also monitoring the heat wave — which means added risks to young children, pregnant women, older adults and those with health problems. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are their main worries and they are advising people in hot apartments to leave for someplace cool, or take a cool bath or shower.

'It's hard to breathe sometimes'

Jamie Thom, who lives in a sweltering midtown apartment building, says his six-week-old daughter and wife have moved to his in-laws' house. 

"It's hard to breathe sometimes, it's stuffy and it's so intense that it's really kind of unbearable," Thom told CBC Toronto on Friday. 

Thom says O'Shanter Development Company, which manages his building at 625 Roselawn Ave, told him it wasn't possible to quickly turn the air conditioning back on.

"They said there's some work that's required in preparing the boiler in terms of reactivating the air conditioner and it would require them to call someone out to do that work," he said. 

"We just thought it was inadequate." 

Jamie Thom's midtown apartment is sweltering even though he has turned down his thermostat all the way. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Jonathan Krehm, owner of O'Shanter Development Company, says the heat is scheduled to turn on and was set in July.

He adds they looked at turning the air conditioning back on last Wednesday on an emergency basis.

"We were told it would take a week to get someone there and then it takes two days to fill up the water chiller, and it would take nine to 10 days to get it operational," Krehm said. 

"It's not just a matter of flipping a switch."

Brampton suspends similar bylaw

Officials in Brampton, Ont. called an emergency meeting Friday to discuss changes to a similar bylaw in response to the unseasonably high temperatures. 

City councillors unanimously voted to suspend the bylaw requiring landlords to keep the heat at a minimum of 20 C between Sept. 15 and June 1, noting it wouldn't be enforced until a review is brought forward in April. 

How the bylaw can be changed

Coun. Josh Matlow has been pushing for changes to Toronto's heat bylaw for the last five years. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Matlow has made three recommendations on how Toronto's bylaw can be amended.

"One of the things that I've mentioned to staff is looking at the medical officer of health being able to look at the forecast and make a reasonable announcement about moving up or back the date about when the landlord needs to provide heat," he said. 

"Another is let us look at the date itself or look at a maximum temperature rather than a date."   


Amara McLaughlin

Senior producer, CBC News

Amara McLaughlin is the senior producer of social media for CBC News in Toronto.

With files from Chris Glover