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Rent bill unfair: Tenants

Ottawa Citizen - Aug 9, 1997
By Mohammed Adam

They call it the Tenant Protection Act, but Melanie Priest and a host of tenants say it is anything but.

Yesterday, Ms Priest and several women's, students and tenant groups streamed into an Ottawa hotel to tell provincial politicians that proposed changes to Ontario rent control law will harm, rather then help, tenants, especially the poor and disadvantaged.

Members of the Standing Committee on General Government are holding province-wide hearing into Bill-96, which is expected to become law this fall. The bill will virtually eliminated rent control by allowing landlord to impose new rents when a tenant leaves. It will formally recognize the right of landlord to use a person's income to determine ability to pay and it will also make it easier for landlord to recoup maintenance costs.

The critics had a catalogue of complaints, but they zeroed in two changes: one that will allow landlords to hike rents once a tenant moves out, and a proposal to use income to determine ability to rent.

That proposal has already been criticized by Keith Norton, the Tory-appointed chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who said it would have a "devastating" impact on the poor. Ottawa-Carton's regional government has demanded its elimination.

Ms. Priest, a single mother on welfare with a disabled son, applied to rent a townhouse from Minto Developments not long after she arrived in Ottawa from Calgary in 1993. She had a good reference and excellent credit rating, but Minto rejected her application, saying she had to find someone who earned 30,000 a year to co-sign her lease.

They had determined that based on her income she couldn't pay the rent. Angry and depressed she filed a human rights complaint against Minto, citing discrimination based on income. It is still pending.

Lise Gervais, another single mother on provincial family benefits has the same problem when she applied for a Bayshore apartment in 1993 that was going for $561 a month, including utilities. Her welfare rent allowance was $600 plus utilities. Despite excellent references she was asked to find a someone who earned $30,000 to co-sign her application. she also has a complaint pending.

Right now, the law is silent on whether landlords can ask for information on a person's income. but the new law will say clearly that it is not illegal to ask for such information.

The women say that would be dangerous because landlords will use it to blackball people with low incomes.

But Minto president Roger Greenberg vigorously defended his company, saying their policy is not discriminatory, and "we don't care where people get their income from."

He added that Minto will announce during the next two weeks a three-year, 25 million capital improvement program for its Ottawa properties. And he said bill 96 is one of the main reasons.

"I'll leave it up to the economists to calculate how many hundreds of jobs such an expenditure will create." he said.

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