Licensing landlords, using data to help housing activists and tenants

What happened at City Hall this week

Moving toward regulation of multi-residential buildings. This Thursday, the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee voted to move multi-residential property licensing forward to city council in June. The current MRAB (Multi-Residential Apartment Buildings) system allows the city to audit building owners and take legal action in court, but does not include any kind of licence that can be taken away from non-compliant landlords. However, at least seven representatives of landlords and property owners deputed against the item, saying they should not have to pay the proposed cost-recovery fee for the licensing, and arguing that what is really necessary is a “real system” for enforcement. They weren’t the only business-minded people with an interest; entrepreneur Yale Fox of New York-based Rentlogic put together a website called LandlordWatch in collaboration with the housing advocacy group ACORN. Their method (which received criticism at committee) was to use city data to identify landlords with the highest number of inspections. See a short video showing how Fox did it below.

Pot shops. Marijuana advocates were turned away at this week’s Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee when the related dispensary and enforcement items were deferred to the June 27 meeting. There were shouts from the public, many of whom came to speak and were turned away as the Clerk and Committee Chair Cesar Palacio read out the rules. (Coincidentally, the same issue came up the day before at the Community Development and Recreation Committee, on an item that an absent Cllr. Palacio had asked Cllr. Ana Bailão to defer on his behalf; deputants there were given the chance to speak before the item was eventually moved.) This week, Toronto Police wrote letters to dispensaries warning of a $50,000 fine if they were found guilty of contravening zoning bylaws, reported The Toronto Star’s David Rider and Betsy Powell. Last week the mayor wrote the committee to consider a review of dispensaries. The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Gray reported that Cllr. Jim Karygiannis wanted the item heard at committee, and said the city should also “halt its crackdown” until the federal government makes its move on legalization.

New Peace Garden and landscaped seating area at City Hall.

Students from Jarvis Collegiate performing at a rededication ceremony Wednesday to officially open the relocated, enhanced Peace Garden.
The landscaped area located east of the Law Society of Upper Canada, on the west corner of Nathan Phillips Square.

A rededication ceremony happened on Wednesday at lunch to officially open the Peace Garden and landscaped area on the west side of Nathan Phillips Square. The space’s design includes benches, flowers and planted areas, and a rekindled flame near a reflecting pool. In the early eighties, the original idea for the monument was for it to be identical to one in Hiroshima.

What’s next week: Monday — Victoria Day, Tuesday — Executive Committee (plans for the 150th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation and the Toronto Ward Boundary Review), Wednesday — Disability, Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee (Wheel-Trans 10 Year Strategy and Five Year Review of the Affordable Housing Action Plan), and Thursday — Board of Directors for the City’s Theatres (establishing committees).


Hall monitor: seen and heard on the roof of Toronto City Hall

Mayor John Tory speaks out on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

Students watch Mayor Tory speak at a Transgender Pride flag–adorned podium.
The Pride Rainbow flag is raised.

The mayor raised the Pride flag on Tuesday, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. He tied the flag-raising to Bill C-16, which would extend protection from discrimination and hate to transgender people across Canada, introduced by federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on the same day. Here’s an excerpt from Mayor John Tory’s speech:

“I’m still learning about these issues. I said that last year, and anybody who says they’re not is not being truthful because human beings are learning every day about different issues and different things that affect people across the City of Toronto.

“I had a great day on the Day of Pink with some students in my office from the City View Alternative School and we had a great discussion about gender equity and gender neutrality. What a great statement it makes that we were sitting in the Office of the Mayor of Toronto talking about gender-neutral washrooms. But you know what? Those are important discussions for me to have, I think for them, too, to know that they can come to the office of the Mayor of Toronto to talk about those things and help to better educate me. And I want to make sure that as the leader of this city’s government, that we are not just catching up or keeping up, but that we continue to be a city that leads the world, in terms of inclusion and in terms of respect, in terms of respect for people’s rights.

“And if that means some of you have to do some pushing and prodding in order to make sure that happens, then push away. Because sometimes people in positions in public life, I certainly speak for myself, need to be pushed a bit, and need to be better informed, and I encourage you to continue to do that.”


What’s coming up in the 6ix

This weekend

The Gardiner Expressway will be reduced by one lane in each direction until Tuesday at 5 a.m. You can read our tips for surviving traffic and construction in last week News Brief.

Tuesday

New Torontonians activities. Starting at 11.30 a.m. with an information fair and activities at City Hall, then a formal program at 12:30 p.m. on the Nathan Phillips Square stage, then a special citizenship ceremony in City Hall Council Chamber at 2:30 p.m. Notable participants: JoAnne Doyle, Chief Operating and Strategy Officer, United Way; Senator Ratna Omidvar; and the Honourable John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

Wednesday

Waterfront Transit ‘Reset’. Public meeting hosted by the city, the Toronto Transit Commission and Waterfront Toronto, in coordination with Metrolinx. Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W., 6 to 8:30 p.m. Presentation at 6:30 p.m.

Thursday

Waterfront Transit ‘Reset’ West. Public meetings hosted by the city, the Toronto Transit Commission and Waterfront Toronto, and in coordination with Metrolinx. John English Junior Middle School, 95 Mimico Ave., 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Presentation at 6:30 p.m.

All day! All night! Online!

Spring cleaning… kick it to the curb! Or, find a not-for-profit agency who will take your gently used household goods that work and are reusable. The City of Toronto has categorized stuff by type (books and craft, clothes and appliances, furniture, etc.) on its website.


Weekend brunch and dinner party talking points: using data to regulate apartments

How landlordwatch.com found the 100 worst landlords in Toronto —  with the city’s own data

 Meet Yale Fox, the guy behind landlordwatch.com. An entrepreneur who recently moved back to Toronto after living in New York, he’s been a TED fellow, a DJ, an intern at Freakonomics and he founded a company called Rentlogic. Inspired by his own terrible experience with his New York landlord, Fox used open data to create a site that would allow other tenants to avoid bad rental buildings and bad landlords.

In February, he brought his idea to expand Rentlogic to Toronto’s Government Management Committee, saying he wanted to build something similar here. Along the way he partnered with ACORN Canada and other housing advocates to build landlordwatch.com, a website devoted to exposing the landlords running the worst operations in town.

The only problem: In order to find out who owns which buildings, he needed to look them all up, one by one, at City Hall. And the technological impediments didn’t stop there: The aging computers that are available to the public don’t even have a keyboard. We followed him to see how he did it.

 


Yale Fox shows how landlordwatch.com found the 100 worst landlords in Toronto.
Trouble playing the video, try Vimeo


This edition of the Signal Toronto Weekly News Brief was written and produced by Arianne Robinson.

We’re on Twitter at @signaltoronto and would love to hear about your events and other happenings.