If you’re talking about renting in Ontario, chances are there’s one term that comes up over and over again: rent control.
But what does that actually mean, and how does it work? Perhaps most importantly, does it apply to your apartment?
Here’s what you need to know:
Any apartment, house, condo, basement or mobile home that someone has lived in since before Nov. 15, 2018 is covered by rent control. That doesn’t mean rent can’t go up. It means that rent can be increased once a year and the provincial government decides by how much.
In 2023 and 2024, rent increases were set at a maximum of 2.5 per cent a month. That means if you’re renting an apartment for $1,500 and it’s under rent control, a maximum increase would see you pay an extra $37.50 for a new monthly total of $1,537.50.
Straight forward enough, right?
Not so, explains Bruno Dobrusin of the York South Weston Tenant Union. It’s not that simple.
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“There are many holes in that system,” Dobrusin said. “That’s important to understand because that’s the origin of a lot of the problems that tenants have.”
Let’s take a look at some of those “holes” he’s talking about.
I’ve lived in my unit since before 2018, can my landlord raise the rent?
Short answer: yes.
As mentioned, rent control means landlords are allowed to raise rent by a pre-determined amount each year. But there is another way they can raise rent beyond what’s typically allowed.
In technical-speak, this is called an above guideline rent increase, or AGI. With approval, landlords can bump rent up another three per cent per year.
To do that, the landlord has to convince the province why they should be allowed to raise your rent above the rent-controlled 2.5 per cent. The province gives your landlord three options from which to argue their case:
- Their city taxes have gone up by what the province calls an “extraordinary” amount.
- They have to pay for security for the first time, or the cost of security has gone up.
- They’re paying for renovations.
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The form landlords fill out to apply for these increases asks them for information explaining how a tax increase impacts their rental units. The province defines taxes as extraordinary if they cost more than 50 per cent of the guideline.
Meanwhile, Dobrusin says a common arguments landlords in Toronto use to raise rent is balcony renovations.
“One of the big problems with [these applications] that frustrates tenants is that many tenants have issues of repairs inside their units and landlords don’t respond to this,” he said. “But they constantly apply for these applications that were supposed to be exceptional.”
In 2022, CBC Toronto found five rental properties around the city where owners applied for five or more of these extra increases to pay for repairs or renovations in the last decade.
I’m moving into an old apartment, will I be under rent control?
This answer is a little trickier.
If your apartment has been around since before Nov. 15, 2018, it’s rent controlled.
But that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed the same sweet deal the previous tenant had. That’s because of something called vacancy decontrol, which advocates, city councillors, and the official opposition have called on the Ontario government to do away with several times in recent years. However, the PC government has rebuffed those attempts.
A spokesperson for the ministry of municipal affairs and housing said allowing landlords to bring vacant units to “market levels” encourages them to invest in their properties and protects against the loss of rentals in the province.
“Part of what I think vacancy decontrol does is it undermines rent control,” said Nemoy Lewis, an associate professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Vacancy decontrol means a landlord can increase the rent however much they want on a vacant apartment, even if it was first occupied before the rent control cutoff date. Lewis says it can make landlords want to move one tenant out so another, who can afford to pay more rent, can be moved in.
“What it’s essentially done has made the market significantly more expensive,” he said.
So, how might vacancy decontrol impact you?
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Let’s say the previous tenant paid $1,500 a month.
Once they move out, the landlord can raise the price to whatever they want, perhaps to $2,500. The apartment is rent controlled at the higher price just like at the lower price.
That means instead of an extra $37.50 a month for a 2.5 per cent maximum increase, you’re paying about $62.50 because the starting rent is higher.
I’m moving into an apartment built after late 2018, am I under rent control?
Any rental unit built after Nov. 15, 2018, is not subject to provincial rent control. That doesn’t just mean a new apartment building, it also includes additions to existing buildings or an unfinished area like a basement or attic that’s been converted into an apartment.
How often can my landlord increase my rent?
Landlords can raise your rent every 12 months, either 12 months after the last increase or 12 months after you moved in. They do, however, need to give you at least 90 days notice before charging you more.
This is the same regardless of whether your unit is rent-controlled or not.
What do I do if me and my landlord have a disagreement about rent control?
The official way to deal with a dispute with your landlord would be the Landlord and Tenant Board. The only tribunal in Ontario that deals with issues between renters and property owners. However, it’s current state of operation is less than ideal.
In May, Ontario’s ombudsman said the board has a backlog of more than 38,000 applications.