Most renters go into a new rental situation pretty blind about the landlord. It might be possible to look up previous code violations on the building, but harder to know whether the landlord is going to be the kind that takes months to get to emergency repairs or a nagging bed bug infestation. And in many cities, the housing or building department doesn’t inspect unless in response to a complaint or history of complaints.
But what if landlords were licensed just like restaurants? When you go out to eat in many cities, you expect to see a sanitation grade that is based on a recent inspections. This provides more transparency to diners who don’t want to eat from a kitchen with rats or slightly-too-warm refrigerator.
Toronto is working on establishing such a landlord licensing system, a concept that was backed by the mayor earlier this year. The city’s plan would involve regular inspections of all apartment buildings with more than 10 units and two floors.
"What could potentially change is putting some onus on the landlords to turn their minds to providing plans," Carleton Grant, an official with the City of Toronto, told CBC News. The site notes that this would included detailed improvement, maintenance, and cleaning plans, and "all the things that ensure that the building is kept up to a state of good repair."
The measure, which still has to be passed by the city council, is being pushed by tenant advocacy groups like ACORN and, unsurprisingly, is opposed by apartment building owners. The building owners say it is a poor use of city resources. The city estimates the program would cost landlords $12 to $15 per unit every year, which would go toward the $3.5 million costs of operating the program.
Other cities, including Philadelphia and London, operate some kind of landlord licensing program. But in London the program has been difficult to implement, with only 1,800 landlords "accredited" since 2012—far short of the city’s goal to register and accredit 100,000 landlords. Discussing the problems with such an idea in New York City, one former housing department official told City Limits Magazine that the city would struggle to regulate and manage such a large operation.
In the meantime, better crowdsourcing could help residents pool complaints about specific buildings and landlords. In Toronto, the site Landlord Watch helps bring to light a building’s history, especially focused on the worst buildings. There's no reason why a Yelp for apartment buildings shouldn't exist to help people avoid getting themselves into a terrible housing situation.
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