Last Thursday, the Conservatives introduced a new housing bill called Helping Homebuyers, Protecting Tenants Act, eight proposed regulatory changes to Ontario’s renting and planning laws, and a new provincial planning statement.
Our initial take is this. The Conservative's plan to fix the housing crisis is not working because buying or renting a home has never been more expensive.
The Conservatives are doubling down on their plan to pave over farmland and build expensive low-density sprawl. This bill, however, does very little to protect renters and nothing to build and plan in a way that helps us meet our housing, employment, and infrastructure needs, make housing more affordable, and protect our farmland and natural environment.
We would like your feedback to hear what you like, your concerns, and what you would like us to ask Minister Clark, and what ideas, issues, and amendments you’d like to see in the legislature and in committee.
Here are the details of the bill
Here are the details covered below so you can review and decide your take.
- Municipal rent protection laws could be replaced by weaker provincial law
- Meek action on illegal eviction problem
- Air-conditioning units are now a right, but at a price
- New provincial planning statement doubles down on costly sprawl
- Employment lands conversion
- Changes to development fees
Municipal rent protection laws could be replaced by weaker provincial law
It seems the government is setting the stage for a provincial rental replacement law, which will likely be weaker than the Toronoto’s rental replacement bylaw, but better than nothing, which is what most municipalities have.
Schedule 2 and Schedule 5 of Bill 97 allow the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to eliminate, weaken and alter municipal rental replacement bylaws - this is a little different from Bill 23, where the Conservatives just gave themselves the power to weaken or eliminate rental replacement bylaws.
The government has also posted the proposed rental replacement bylaw regulation, which you can comment on before May 21. The government wants to give developers flexibility on what kind of home a renter can return to, likely one that still has the same number of bedrooms, but is smaller in size than the original.
Rental replacement bylaws govern what developers must do if they demolish a rental building and replace it with a condo. Mississauga, Hamilton and Toronto have rental replacement bylaws.
Toronto’s bylaw requires developers to return that tenant to an equivalent rent-controlled apartment at about the same rent after construction of the new bigger condo is complete, and also compensate a tenant. The amount of money a tenant receives varies depending on what the city negotiates with each developer.
Toronto’s replacement bylaw has protected thousands of rental units from being converted to luxury condos. Eliminating or weakening rental replacement bylaws will make it far cheaper for landlords and developers to convert purpose-built rental buildings into condos.
Our view is that renters should be able to return to their rent-controlled home once construction is complete, and receive a rent top-up, that’s equal to the difference in rent they paid at their home and what they’ll have to pay to find a similar home in the area, for the entire construction period.
Meek action on illegal eviction problem
The Conservatives’ move to curb Ontario’s terrible illegal eviction problem are meek.
It is encouraging to see that Bill 97 doubles the maximum fine for violations under the Residential Tenancies Act to $100,000 for an individual, and $500,000 for a corporation, which is paid to the board, and requires landlords to get a report justifying a home must be vacated for renovations before a tenant has a leave.
In addition, if a landlord doesn’t allow a tenant to move back in, a tenant now has two years or up to six months after renovations are complete to apply to the Landlord Tenant Board for a remedy.
The Conservatives, however, have failed to fix the massive loophole of enforcement.
For a landlord to be fined, a tenant must be a volunteer private investigator and good samaritan for at least a year to make a case to the Landlord Tenant Board. Successful tenants almost never get their home back because a landlord can just move a new tenant in, and the maximum compensation tenants can get is modest, being moving expenses and any additional rent they had to pay for a year.
Since the tenant gains very little from fighting an illegal eviction, the landlord almost never gets fined.
To reduce a landlord’s financial incentive to evict, Ontario needs real rent control, and for the government to track, investigate and enforce illegal evictions.
Air-conditioning units are now a right, but at a price
Only the Conservatives could turn a Human Rights Tribunal Ruling into a rent hike.
In response to our advocacy and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling, Conservatives have proposed changes that will ensure tenants have the right to install their own air-conditioning unit, provided they do it safely, inform the landlord they intend to do so, and pay for any excess electricity costs. It is not clear if tenants who already have an air-conditioning unit will have to pay a seasonal electricity charge.
The proposed regulatory change is posted here. You can provide your feedback by May 6.
New provincial planning statement doubles down on costly sprawl
The Conservatives have combined the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) into a single document called the Provincial Planning Statement. This document guides where and what we build in Ontario.
The Conservatives posted this new Provincial Planning Statement as a proposal, which you can comment on until June 6, 2023.
In this drastic planning move, it appears the Conservatives are proposing to do the following:
End firm density requirements for new developments. Now municipalities are encouraged to set their own density targets, with large and fast growing municipalities being encouraged to aim for 50 residents per hectare. The government had already reduced the number of homes required from a previous 80 residents per hectare standard to 50.
Make it far easier for municipalities to expand their urban boundaries and permit development on nearby greenspace and farmland whenever they want. Previously, municipalities could only expand their boundaries as part of a review process and if certain conditions were met, such as housing needs couldn’t be met by increasing density on areas zoned for development.
Eliminate any requirement that municipalities build a percentage of homes in areas already zoned for development. Regions must currently build at least 50% of new homes in areas zoned for development, down from a previous 60%. Now they will be merely “encouraged” to do so.
Require municipalities to have enough designated land available for 25 years of growth or more, instead of up to 25 years, which was the previous standard.
Municipal Comprehensive Reviews are not in the provincial planning statement, and therefore not required. Municipal Comprehensive Reviews involve municipalities reviewing and updating their official plans so they are in line with the Growth Plan.
Additional residences will be permitted on farm properties (up to two additional on one parcel and up to three additional residential parcels).
Employment lands conversion
The Conservatives could be making it easier to convert employment lands, like retail or manufacturing, to housing. The definition of ‘employment areas’ is proposed to be changed in both the Planning Act and the new PPS. The focus is on uses that cannot be located in mixed use areas, such as heavy industry, manufacturing and large scale warehousing.
Other planning changes in Bill 97
Bill 97 requires landowners and municipalities to enter into agreements where a Provincial Land Development Facilitator has been appointed. These agreements could include matters that go beyond what can be provided in either the Planning Act or Development Charges Act.
Bill 97 makes the provincial Ministerial Zoning Order (MZOs) even stronger, giving the Minister the ability to exempt MZO-designated lands from other provincial policies and official plans, such as farmland and wetland preservation, to develop. MZOs can’t be appealed, and do not require public consultation before approval.
Changes to development fees
The legislation responds to municipal concerns in a previous bill that requires municipalities to gradually refund zoning by-law and site plan application fees if the municipality failed to make a decision within specified time periods. The Conservatives are proposing to postpone the start date from January 1, 2023 to July 1, 2023 to give municipalities time to adjust.
I welcome any additional thoughts or concerns you have and will continue to provide updates as they become available.