Fair Rents for Commercial and Residential Properties Using Data

Fair Rents for Commercial and Residential Properties Using Data

Fair Rents for Commercial and Residential Properties Using Data

Fair Rents for Commercial and Residential Properties Using Data

Chloe Brown

Chloe Brown

Chloe Brown

May 1, 2023

A miniature house with red door and grey roof on a table next to a keyring with a key on it.
A miniature house with red door and grey roof on a table next to a keyring with a key on it.
A miniature house with red door and grey roof on a table next to a keyring with a key on it.

The City of Toronto launched RentSafeTO in 2017, aiming to enhance the safety and living conditions of tenants in rental housing by requiring landlords to meet minimum building maintenance and safety standards, with penalties for non-compliance. However, critics have faulted the program for its inability to sufficiently address Toronto's housing crisis and to guard against unethical behavior from both landlords and tenants, which can harm others.

Bad actors in the real estate sector can include landlords and tenants who engage in illegal or unethical practices that harm others. These can include:

  • Landlords who engage in illegal eviction practices, such as locking out tenants, cutting off utilities, or failing to provide adequate notice before terminating a lease.

  • Landlords who fail to maintain rental properties to basic safety and health standards, such as failing to fix broken heating systems, mold or pest infestations, or unsafe living conditions.

  • Landlords who discriminate against tenants on the basis of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or other protected categories.

  • Tenants who engage in illegal subletting or who damage rental properties.

  • Tenants who fail to pay rent or violate other lease terms, such as allowing unauthorized occupants or pets.

Good actors in the real estate sector can work together to stop bad actors by:

  • Supporting and enforcing laws that protect tenants' rights, such as just cause eviction laws and anti-discrimination laws.

  • Promoting and enforcing building codes and safety standards to ensure that rental properties are safe and habitable.

  • Encouraging tenants to report illegal or unethical practices by landlords or other tenants, and providing legal resources and support to help them do so.

  • Encouraging landlords to adopt ethical business practices, such as transparent communication, timely repairs, and fair rental policies.

  • Providing education and resources to landlords and tenants on their rights and responsibilities under the law, and promoting open communication and mutual respect between landlords and tenants.

Working with the good actors to stop the bad actors

To improve the program, a Shelter Support and Housing Authority (SSHA) should be created to develop a comprehensive database of rental rates and coordinate efforts to improve housing conditions for low-income residents. The SSHA consolidates various departments, including the Shelter Support and Housing Administration departments, the Rooming House Licensing Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, Build Toronto and the Housing Secretariat. 

The SSHA would work with contractors to construct affordable housing, develop community land trusts, promote ethical business practices and tenant involvement in maintenance. The SSHA would also oversee the design and implementation of a public rental management system that prioritizes the tenant experience, which could help identify fraud and bad faith agents in the rental sector while promoting ethical business practices.

There are several types of cloud-based and on-premises services that the Housing Authority could design to help tenants and landlords work together to identify fraud and bad faith agents within the rental and home buying sector.

Here are service updates that could achieve this goal:

  1. Online complaint and reporting systems: These platforms could be cloud-based and accessible from anywhere, making it easy for people to report any issues they encounter. Tenants and landlords can report cases of fraud, bad faith, or any other misconduct they encounter in the rental and homebuying sector. 

  2. Online verification and background checks can complete advanced authentication and verification methods to ensure that people are who they claim to be. This allows tenants and landlords to verify the identities and backgrounds of the people they are dealing with. 

  3. Online fraud detection and prevention could be designed for on-site and digital systems that use machine learning and other advanced technologies to detect and prevent fraud, analyze data from various sources and then identify patterns and anomalies that may indicate fraudulent activity in the rental and homebuying sector.

  4. Education and training for landlords and tenants should be offered both online, phone and in-person and includes resources such as guides, videos, interactive training modules, workshops, webinars, and other outreach programs on how to identify fraud and bad faith agents in the rental and homebuying sector.

  5. Digital Lease Agreements could develop digital lease agreements that comply with local regulations, which would make it easier for landlords and tenants to sign and store their lease agreements online. This could also provide a secure and accessible record of the lease agreement for both parties.

  6. Smart Home Technology could be installed in rental properties to monitor and control environmental factors such as temperature and air quality. This could help landlords ensure that their properties meet health and safety standards and provide tenants with a comfortable living environment.

  7. Automated Inspections that use sensors and artificial intelligence to identify potential violations of housing, tenancy, and shelter regulations. This would reduce the burden on inspectors and provide landlords with a more efficient way to ensure compliance.

The system's data could also serve as a useful resource for achieving these objectives. Additionally, utilizing such a system enables the efficient deployment of public services to sustain long-term tenancies, such as conflict resolution and legal aid, eviction prevention, record-keeping accuracy enhancement, and education for landlords and tenants on gathering evidence for Landlord-Tenant Board hearings.

Toddler girl wearing bunny ears looks at the camera while standing in her kitchen while her father cooks in the background.

Improving quality of life for a sustainable and harmonious community

A municipal by-law enforcement program in Toronto aimed at helping residential and commercial landlords solve their top 3 rental issues could include the following measures:

  1. Property Maintenance Standards

    The program could enforce strict property maintenance standards to ensure that rental properties are kept in good condition. This would include regular inspections of buildings to identify any maintenance issues that need to be addressed, such as broken windows, faulty heating systems, or leaks in the roof. Landlords who fail to comply with the maintenance standards could face fines or penalties.

  2. Noise and Nuisance Control

    The program could enforce noise and nuisance control regulations to ensure that tenants are not causing disturbances that affect their neighbors. This could include regulations on loud music, parties, and other disruptive behaviors. Landlords could be required to take steps to prevent their tenants from causing disturbances, and could face penalties if they fail to do so.

  3. Tenant Screening and Education

    The program could provide education and resources to help landlords screen potential tenants more effectively. This could include providing information on credit checks, reference checks, and criminal background checks, as well as tips on identifying warning signs of problem tenants. The program will provide eviction support by offering tenants transition plans once notice has been served to encourage a safe and peaceful transition for both parties.

By enforcing these measures, the municipal by-law enforcement program could help residential and commercial landlords in Toronto solve their top 3 rental issues, which include property maintenance, noise and nuisance control, and tenant screening and education. 

By ensuring that landlords are held accountable for maintaining their properties and preventing disturbances, the program could help improve the quality of life for both landlords and tenants, and create a more harmonious and sustainable community.

A laptop showing data visuals open on top of a couch

Using data-driven tenancy agreements for reform

  1. Tenant and landlord protection

    A database of verified landlords and tenants that includes information about their rental history, such as any violations of tenancy regulations, past evictions, or complaints. This database would provide transparency and accountability for both landlords and tenants while safeguarding their privacy.

  2. Fairness

    Reforms can promote fairness and foster equity by guaranteeing that all tenants are treated fairly and have access to up-to-date and precise information regarding factors such as the real-time state of the property, rental rates, average costs of amenities, and nearby services (including the actual cost of living) based on their location.

  3. Cost of living transparency

    Rental websites neglect tenants' needs beyond price limits, leading to rent gouging. Statistical techniques can be applied to identify factors influencing rental rates (e.g., location, size, amenities) by setting up a database and analyzing trends. Using this data, policymakers and researchers can enhance rental price accuracy and prevent unfair pricing practices.

  4. Rent setting

    Toronto's Rent Bank provides interest-free loans for housing-related expenses and arrears, along with counseling and referrals to community resources like Housing Help Centres that offer eviction prevention support, including finding affordable housing, negotiating with landlords, and accessing financial assistance programs.

    By merging the data from Rent Bank and Housing Help Centres with market trends and property values, the city can better utilize tenant-reported cost of living to work with landlords and property managers to establish suitable rent prices, make rent adjustments, and establish community land trusts.

  5. Maintenance and repair

    Data on property maintenance and repair needs can help tenants and City staff in identifying property managers who consistently neglect their tenants and properties by failing to prioritize repairs and maintenance.

    Furthermore, the City of Toronto can collaborate with its industrial partners to enhance credential recognition and verification systems, thereby assisting landlords and property managers in identifying the most economical repair and maintenance solutions.

Overall, there are many different types of cloud-based and on-premises services that the government could design to help tenants and landlords work together to identify fraud and bad faith agents within the rental and homebuying sector. By leveraging technology and providing education and resources, authorities and social services can help ensure that tenants and landlords are able to make informed decisions and protect themselves from fraud and other forms of misconduct.

Informed policymaking and cooperative leadership

© 2023 Chloe Brown

Informed policymaking

and cooperative leadership

© 2023 Chloe Brown

Informed policymaking and cooperative leadership

© 2023 Chloe Brown